Blonde Sabbath

Blondie snuck War Pigs in amongst their own hits, impressing Martin Longley with their local sensitivity.

O2 Academy
September 13th

Blondie usually put on a good show, but there was a palpable electric crackle between them and their audience on this night.

Even though the Academy’s main room is pretty spacious, this was still a more intimate setting when compared to some of the band’s previous appearances in Birmingham’s largest venues. Big enough to garner an enthusiastic mob, but small enough to allow relatively close proximity to the stage, having the charged feel of a club gig.

Blondie were also fired up for rockin’ fun, unavoidably coming on like a greatest hits jukebox, but also tipping in a substantial number of newer songs, some of which have potential for future hook-embedding: Euphoria and Sugar On The Side continue their old tendency to probe styles a step or two sideways from rock’n’roll, with the latter tune featuring Colombian electronicist Systema Solar, present on the backdrop video.

Otherwise, it was an impeccable rush of classic compositions, from Hanging On The Telephone to Heart Of Glass, Rapture to The Tide Is High and Atomic to Union City Blue, this last reserved for the three-number encore. There were also a clutch of fresh covers, with gobbets of (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!) (Beastie Boys), and a locally-targeted resuscitation of War Pigs (Black Sabbath).

Such is the enormous legacy of popular hit single Blondie tunes, it’s partially frustrating that they don’t dig up a few more obscure truffles from their early albums. Ultimately, though, the ninety minute or so set sent the audience reeling with its sheer weight of memory-jerking monsters, drawing in lovers from many zones, including punk, pop, reggae, disco and hip hop. This band always had their fingers on the pulses of emerging scenes, ready to turn the alternative into a still-cool populist plundering.

Debbie Harry is a sprightly singer and mover, considering she’s on the cusp of being a septuagenarian. Main man Chris Stein keeps himself more in the background, sending co-guitarist Tommy Kessler out to the front. Drummer Clem Burke has no such reticence, powering the band with an amazing excess of energy, imprisoned behind his plexiglass screen of onstage sonic containment, spinning his sticks eight feet in the air, but always catching them on the beat.

Maybe the entire tour was conducted at this level, but it seemed as though the band were particularly fired up for this performance, eagerly feeding off the rapturous crowd reaction. In the end, this was one of their best gigs on Birmingham soil, and superior to shows that your scribe has also witnessed in other cities.