Friday, October 12, 2012

Blondie: Pretty Great For A Night With No Communists

Last month I got the chance to interview Debbie Harry for The Oregonian. I was a little nervous, so I I thought. I had 12 questions for the 10 minutes allotted and asked them all. Debbie is a pretty straight-forward conversationalist.

I was busy covering MusicFest Northwest the night Blondie played in Portland, but fortunately, I was able to catch the very last show of their tour in Port Chester, New York, last Sunday.

When I was listening to Panic of Girls over and over to prepare for the story, it struck me how different the songs are from one another. That's one point the album has been criticized on, actually. But I think it's just Blondie being Blondie. Seeing them live, it really stuck out how no two of their hits sound much alike. The new material fits right in the with the old as well.

The newly re-opened Capitol Theater was just about full, but it still wasn't hard to squeeze up into the fifth row. I had never seen Blondie before. The band formed before I was born. But in that intimate environment, and with the amazingly high level of energy Debbie brings to the stage, I felt just like I was seeing them in their prime.

Ironically, one person who helped create that impression was guitarist Tommy Kessler, who joined the band in 2010. When classic bands hire new musicians, I often find myself wondering how the hell this guy got the job. But Kessler is fantastic.

The acoustic parts of "Wipe Off My Sweat" sounded absolutely perfect. Kessler is all over the stage the entire time, even colliding with Debbie and having her strum his guitar for him. This truly gifted musician and performer adds so much to an already iconic band. I'm interested to see where his career goes from here.

Of course, while it felt to me like I was seeing Blondie in their prime, there were certainly nights of their career that won't ever be matched, I'm sure. I asked Debbie to tell me about one of her all-time favorite gigs, and this is what she said:
We did a show once in Bordeaux in the '70s and it was a college or university, and there was a lot of stuff going on in Europe at that time with communism and Bader-Minehoff and the IRA. There was a lot of turmoil, and all these political groups and everything going on. Of course there was a huge communist student group [in Bordeaux] and they actually broke all the doors and windows of the theater of this venue. We're there playing away, and it wasn't really super packed or anything like that. It was a nice audience, but you know, there was room. So I was thinking, "Oh gee, I guess they don't think much of Blondie in Bordeaux," and all of a sudden, the whole place was overrun with people storming in. It was the communists coming to see us! They didn't want to pay so they broke in.
Image: Debbie Harry in a rare moment of standing still. By me.