Shot! Blondie in Brighton

It’s been quite a while since Blondie last played Brighton, so long in fact I have no idea how many years ago it was. It’s also seems like an eternity since Blondie released an album of material that could stand up to those from their heyday. Between 1979 and 1981 they were banging out hits like Dreaming, Union City Blue, Call Me, Atomic, Sunday Girl, The Tide Is High and Rapture one after the other. It’s easy to forget back then Blondie were one of the biggest bands on the planet.

But they couldn’t keep it up. In 1982 the band split and it looked like Blondie was over. Fast forward fifteen years and they were back. Since then they put out a few more albums, but for the most part never replicated anything quite on par with their previous material. That changed earlier this year when they released their 11th album Pollinator. Although inconsistent, it was their first post break-up full-length to come close to recall past glories. It was also their highest charting album in 18 years.

Now a septuagenarian, Debbie Harry was back and so was the interest in the newly invigorated Blondie, fuelled not just by the current demand in heritage acts, but also the return to form signalled by much of Pollinator. At 72, she may be one of the oldest women still fronting a major rock band, but on record at least she didn’t sound like she was in her dotage. While digital-processing can enhance much in a recording studio, many like myself arrived wondering whether she’d still be able to cut it on stage.

Ironically, the stage in question looked like it was more ready for a recording session than a live show. It was crammed with gear including that absolute no-no for me, flight cases. Even Clem Burke’s red sparkle drumkit was surrounded by perspex panels. Original members Burke and Chris Stein were joined by Matt Katz-Bohen, Leigh Foxx and Tommy Kessler, on keyboards, bass and guitar, respectively.

The welcoming cheers were turned up a notch or three when the audience got their first sight of the diminutive Ms Harry. Wearing a bee-encircled headpiece and a black cape which, when she turned, revealed the slogan “Stop Fucking The Planet” she looked more like an eccentric protestor at an eco rally than a music legend.

She was certainly a woman on a mission. Some of her first comments were a rapture to Rampion, praising Brighton as being “a nice place to be” for its new wind farm “in the ocean, or whatever you call it” and decrying her own country for dragging its heels. But it was her sultry singing voice that people had come to hear and while she may not be able to hit the high notes or run around the stage, she did more than enough not to embarrass herself.

And it wasn’t only her that sounded good, the band did too, especially Clem Burke’s drums (presumably helped by that perspex surround) The sound wasn’t quite up to what I experienced at Goldfrapp at the Dome the night before, but for the Brighton Centre it was excellent. And, just like Goldfrapp, Blondie were backed by three large LED screens. Both bands used them in a similar way, employing pulsating graphics to help impart the energy their frontwomen lacked. As with their superior sonics, Goldfrapp’s screen use was the better of the two and the more ‘connected’ to the music.

Speaking of connections, there’s one more thing that ties the two band’s together: both their latest albums were produced by the same producer, John Congleton.

But visually, the biggest problem about Blondie’s show was that crowded stage. To my eyes, it cried out for some design features: some different levels and some staging elements that would have positioned Debbie Harry in front of something better than a keyboard rig, drum kit or a section of video screen. Even something as simple as a ‘bridge’ at the back of the stage would have helped.

It’s a curious oversight for a band who clearly place a lot of importance on visuals: their latest album cover for example was designed by Shepard Fairey, the creator of the iconic Change poster for Obama. I’m sure he could have dreamt up an interesting stage set for them.

As on the album, the new songs — Fun, Too Much, Long Time and the Johnny Marr-penned My Monster — stood up well when played alongside the old hits. But it was the Blondie back catalogue that the audience had come to revel in and many of them were sprinkled across the 17-song set. For me, the best of those were both from the iconic Parallel Lines album: the show opener One Way Or Another and perhaps the all-time classic Blondie song Picture This.

Released way back in 1978, its “All I want is a photo in my wallet” lyrics give away its age and serve as a reminder that next year will be its 40th anniversary.

This may not have been their finest hour — those days are behind them — but for everyone who attended it was much more than just a small remembrance of their past glories. Sloppy staging aside, this was Blondie rolling back the years and doing what they promised on Fun — taking things back up again.

Setlist: One Way Or Another| Hanging On The Telephone | Fun | Call Me | Gravity | Rapture | Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35 | Fragments | Maria | Too Much | Picture This | Long Time | Atomic | Heart Of Glass || My Monster | Union City Blue | Dreaming

“To me, shooting live music is all about capturing the personality of the performer and the emotion of their performance. And then creating an iconic image.”

Behind the image: All these images were shot with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and the 75 1.8 lens and the camera’s built-in digital zoom using available light only. This was such a frustrating gig to shoot. Although I was able to photograph the support band from the pit, I could only shoot Blondie from the mixer desk or the side of the venue. And once in position, I couldn’t move. As a result I couldn’t get any close-ups of Debbie Harry. If that was the intention, it didn’t work as Mike Burnell, who was literally standing next to me with his huge 600mm telephoto lens and monopod, got the shots I wanted. Shot in Brighton on 8 November 2017.

Not the Pollinator tour, but Blondie in London a few months earlier with the same stage set-up

Blondie’s latest album Pollinator is out now

Follow Blondie on Twitter at @BlondieOfficial

Follow me on Twitter

Read my review of Goldfrapp in Brighton here

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Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people

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Gary Marlowe

Gary Marlowe

Creator of images that are out of the ordinary, reviewer of live music and live events and interviewer of interesting people

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