York Races, Friday 22 July 2011
Weird place for a gig. Men in suits wobble past half-cut. Women clutching champagne flutes tramp through churned-up mud in stiletto heels. It highly debatable how many people here came for the live music (or the horse racing for that matter, rather then primarily for an excuse to get dressed up and pissed), but as soon as Ms Harry shuffles onto the stage, looking like Little Red Riding Hood's fashion-forward nan, a great roar goes up. The band breeze through 'Union City Blue' and 'Dreaming' with little fuss. They're a well-oiled musical unit, if a little on the frosty side. Debbie keeps her banter to a minimum, possibly wise after she elicits a hail of boos by telling us how much the band love Manchester.
The main problem musically is the band's young buck guitarist, who seems to think we're all here to hear him show-boat and watch him pull rock star poses. His classic rock widdling is especially painful on 'Atomic', coming close to ruining the song's fluidity. Less of an issue is the new stuff. Blondie have got an album to promote, Panic of Girls, and the set leans heavily on new material, of which single 'Mother' holds up very well against the classics. However, it's odd how many trusted favourites they leave out: no 'Dennis', '(I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear' or 'Picture This'.
Mid-way through the gig, Debbie looks increasingly uneasy. It looks like someone in the front row is saying something to her. She stops 'Sunday Girl' during the intro. "I'm actually really uncomfortable with this," she says. Chris Stein, who up 'til now has remained a shadowy figure at the back of the stage, comes up to talk to her. A tense few minutes pass, then Debbie re-introduces 'Sunday Girl' by telling us it was written about her cat. Meanwhile, the keyboard player has slipped into a cat outfit and is dancing round Debbie with a keytar. She responds by launching into some 'dad at a wedding' style dancing. Suddenly, you remember how goofy Blondie could be at their peak.
Whatever the problem was, it seems to have been resolved and maybe a little conflict was good as the band keep firing on all cylinders for the rest of the set. 'Rapture', probably the band's greatest moment, is as awesome as you could want it to be, Debbie delivering the rap with her red hood up over her platinum white hair. From there, unbelievably, they blast straight into a cover of Beastie Boys' 'Fight for Your Right (to Party!)', and it's brilliant, a crazy moment which completely pays off. With the audience now on their side and singing along, the band romp through 'One Way or Another' before retiring from the stage.
The encore is an unfortunately underwhelming rendition of 'Heart of Glass', its failure down to that blasted guitarist again, who's clearly uncomfortable about playing on a disco song and so displays all the subtlety of a drunken teen playing Guitar Hero. Oh well. A potentially awkward night has been saved by some timeless music and one well-chosen, counter-intuitive cover version. Brava, Blondie.