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Wednesday 21 June 2023

A VIew From The Back Of The Room: Blondie (Live Review By Alex Swift)

Blondie, Cardiff Castle, 16.06.23

Shows like these are idyllic. The setting sun casts its shadows in the grounds of Cardiff castle as the crowd is illuminated by the glow of stage lights. I’ve acquired tickets to see Blondie by pure happen stance – I’m incredibly grateful though. As one dedicated fan points out to me in the queue, this might be my first and last chance to see the punk and new wave legends. “Don’t say that” beckons another voice, although concedes that at 77 years old, no one could blame Debbie Harry for retiring. “She seems very determined not to stop” I interject, receiving nods of approval all round. I may be a newcomer but with or without prior knowledge of their live quality, there’s a tangible sense that the band would not be continuing to play so often if they thought there was any risk that they might have lost their spark.

We see the determination possessed by Harry and company in its all its glory tonight, as the band begin with the frenzied, One Way Or Another, their excellent version of Hanging On The Telephone, and the gigantic as ever Call Me. Meanwhile, their frontwoman struts around stage in a bright yellow suit, looking impossibly cool in doing so (something which, to be fair, probably comes entirely naturally to her). She also stops frequently to speak to the crowd, noting of the surroundings “I’m just waiting for the arrows to come flying out of the castle”. For those in any doubt, she’s not lost a hint of talent with age. Indeed, with Debbie’s remarkable stage presence and still incredible voice, it’s hard for her not to dominate proceedings and yet the other band members are given plenty of time to shine, with many of the songs being allowed to run for well past their original length to demonstrate the skill of each of these musicians.

Guitarist Andee Blacksugar - tonight standing in for co-founder Chris Stein, due to health concerns – is a sight to behold, as he’s given an opportunity to absolutely shred on multiple songs, without ever appearing over-indulgent. The rhythm section meanwhile – a defining element of this band’s sound – is led by original drummer Clem Burke and former Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, who keep pieces like Heart Of Glass and Rapture exciting and propulsive, adding a familiar danceable element that many in the crowd are happy to adhere to. Two of the most rousing moments, as far as audience participation is concerned, come with Atomic which sees the crowd shouting the title in unison come the time, and The Tide Is High, which sees everyone moving in time to the infections, ska-esque composition.

I’d also be remiss not to mention the amount of Pride flags I see in the crowd. Hardly a surprise considering pieces like Maria – another personal highlight for me, as Harry’s voice ascends to the high note with elegance – have been heralded as LGBTQ+ anthems for a long time. In fact, this is something which the band are more than happy to encourage as the visuals that accompany parts of their set show an unashamed support for the community, with Debbie having not long ago come out publicly as bisexual herself. The timing was, in all likelihood, a coincidence, but as well as being a great show on its own merits, this is a wonderful start to a brilliant Pride weekend.

Ending their set in an encore of Fun, followed by their first performance of Denis since 2010 and closing on Dreaming, you get the sense that these musicians love playing together. Next year they will be in their 50th year as a band. Blondie have reached that point with the dignity of a group of musicians who will be playing shows for a few more years, before retiring, leaving behind a catalogue of classic songs, and fond memories in the minds of those who have been there since the beginning and those – like me – who are glad they seized the chance to see them, even at the last minute. 10/10

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