Written By Chloé Sautereau
Clem Burke was wearing a CBGB’s t-shirt as he sat down behind the acoustic drum set on the Pier 17 stage that night. The sun set over a cooler day for New York than all those that preceded this summer. There was a chance of rain and while they handed out plastic ponchos, nobody really seemed to care.
Back to Clem Burke’s t-shirt: CBGB’s. It’s one of the first things I noticed when the members of Blondie finally walked out onto the stage because the history in the air is palpable, and the crowd’s excitement matches. He’s likely one of the rare people who probably got it there, decades ago, a few blocks from where we are at CBGB’s in New York.
Leigh Foxx is still on bass, Chris Stein still on guitar. Debbie Harry still has her smile, one I’ve only ever had the chance to see on tape. Her hair is a platinum blonde that might be mistaken for a white or grey, but reflected the color of any ambient lighting throughout the show. She’s glammed up in all-red, from a cape-like chale, to thigh-high boots. She is the coolest 77-year-old I’ve ever seen.
This takes me back to a place I wish I’d known, a place that means so much to so many people in this industry, in this city. And while I can’t see it unless I turn around, I know the band is facing gleaming faces and a skyline like no other.
My mom was jealous that I got to see them. So were my friends. I went in with pure excitement and little expectations, for the whispers that go around about acts who’ve been performing for this many years. Can they actually still sing and play as well as they used to? Do their bodies still permit? What does it mean to still be on stage after such a long time?
Well, Blondie laid the answers to all those questions right before my eyes. The music is vibrant, alive. It’s evolved, carrying the traces of all the years over which these songs have been played, and the thousands of times these legendary musicians performed them. The practice is inhumane and that’s what I’d forgotten. Calling it second nature to them is probably an understatement.
The nonchalance is breathtaking. The fun they’re still having is contagious. Blondie’s the kind of band where every song that starts comes rushing in like an old souvenir, because you forgot that one was one of theirs too. It’s carved in a collective memory. Be it at 21, 44 or 72.
The backdrop during their performance of “Call Me” – their infamous Giorgio Moroder collab – is a series of old taped footage. 20 year-old Debbie Harry appears, radiant as she still is, reminiscent of a time passed, but certainly not forgotten, spent creating something that every soul on that rooftop can still gleefully scream to. She barely has to sing a word.
Echoing into the night are sounds we don’t play anymore, at least not that way. On keyboard, Matt Katz-Bohen who joined the band for Blondie’s Parallel Lines 30th anniversary tour, envelops the crowd in something soothing, welding all the moving musical pieces together.
And in almost every song, Tommy Kessler, who replaced guitarist Paul Carbonara in 2010, breaks out in a solo I wished never came to an end, drumming his fingers at an uncanny speed on the neck of a guitar that was repeatedly more outrageous – and gorgeous – than the previous one he took out. (I’m talking about everything from rainbow colored doodles and patches covering his Les Paul Gibson, to the full blue glitter on his Kauer Daylighter.)
And while Harry handed out roses to those in the first row or got the crowd to clap along with a simple flick of her hand, it did start to rain. But, as I said, it wouldn’t matter. Truth be, had it lasted more than just a few minutes, it might have made the night even better.
Because one way or another, it’s a rebellious new-wave, today turned classic, that Blondie represents. And there’s only so much I can say a-top my 21 years, as I wish, even more after that night, that I’d grown up in New York’s 70s underground scene.