Monday, June 23, 2008

Sunday Girl

It was with a mixture of shear delight and a hint of melancholy that I watched (what's left of) Blondie perform their seminal 1978, "Parallel Lines," in its entirety (and chronologically) Sunday night at the Nokia Theatre in Midtown.
With only the mega hit "Heart of Glass" and its U.S. follow-up, "One Way or Another" (aka The Swiffer Song), being well-known in America, it's easy to forget just how huge "Parallel Lines" was around the globe, a veritable greatest hits collection and a timely reminder of when albums mattered. Not only did "Heart of Glass" go to No. 1 in America, Britain, Australia, Austria, New Zealand, Germany and Switzerland, "Sunday Girl" was also a chart-topping international sensation, while "Hanging on the Telephone" and "Picture This" also were hits for the band overseas.
While I've seen the band perform a handful of these songs live before, it was my first time for about half of "Parallel Lines" and last night's rendition of "I'm Gonna Love You Too" -- a cover of a song originally recorded by Buddy Holly that was actually the first U.S. single off the album -- is now without a doubt my all-time favorite live Blondie moment! (God it was wonderful!) I remember reading that Deb picked the song because she thought it would be a hit in America, where they were still so desperately trying to break through after lukewarm responses to their first two albums. You could see how much Debbie was enjoying performing it (she didn't miss a note!) -- and 30 years later it still has me asking, Why wasn't this a hit? ("Hanging on the Telephone," which also has hit written all over it, was the second single in America and when it flopped, the label decided to release "Heart of Glass" almost as a joke because nothing was working for them.) Hearing my brother's faves, "Picture This" and "11:59," was a treat too, although it made me lonesome for my old bedroom on West Kiva where we played them over and over again. And I must say that Jimmy Destri's absence was greatly felt during the "11:59" Farfisa organ solo -- not because his fill-in wasn't capable, but because Destri wrote this classic track and deserved to be there to enjoy the moment. I only found out yesterday that Jimmy's exit from the band a few years ago came about after he went into rehab back in '03. I guess he cleaned up but was never asked to rejoin the fold. While I'm sure the remaining founders (Deb, Chris Stein and Clem Burke) have their reasons for making this decision, it does hurt to have a mere three old members calling themselves Blondie on a "30th anniversary tour" of an album that really defined this now legendary act. (With a stage half-full of replacements you almost had to wonder if this really was the same band that once ran an advertising campaign proclaiming that BLONDIE IS A GROUP.) And lest we forget that ugly scene with the two other ex-communicated members, Frank Infante and Nigel Harrison, at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions last year. Speaking of Frank, it was sad that he was not up there during the nearly unprecedented performance of his rare writing contribution -- "I Know But I Don't Know" -- that happens to be on "Parallel Lines" and on which he essentially duets with Deb. (Cute lead guitarist Paul Carbonara filled the role nicely, but still.)

After doing a near-perfect job on the first 11 tracks, Deb wimped out on the album's closer, "Just Go Away," kind of a grown-up version of "Rip Her to Shreds." (She only sang those three words -- Just Go Away! -- but God knows she deserved a little breather at that point). From there it was a mixed bag of winners -- "(I'm Always) Touched by Your Presence Dear," "Call Me," "Rapture," "The Tide Is High" -- and a few ill-advised selections, like two solo songs from "Necessary Evil" (weren't we all extremely patient when you toured for that album and did no Blondie last year. Deb?) and "Screaming Skin" (which I must admit was better than the "No Exit" album version that I've always detested). They did pick up the tempo, however, with a fun cover of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" and roaring version the Rolling Stones' "Get Off My Cloud" to close it out.

By the end Michael had declared it the "best Blondie show" he'd ever seen (and we've seen a lot), and I was still tingling from seeing "Will Anything Happen" and "Fade Away and Radiate" live(!) (and running into Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las in the lobby), yet still feeling like the show had come so close to being perfect, if only they'd made a few changes. (I know, I ruin everything). But then I got home and took a deep breath and remembered what the great Jermaine Jackson once said: it was the closest thing to perfect that I've ever seen, and for that I decided to just be grateful.

Next up? Oh, yes. I'm still living in the '80s: Yaz(oo), Aimee Mann and The Motels!


Anonymous said...

I so wanted to see her. The Motels? are they touring? where?

Anonymous said...

Just read your blog, so I know what you thought of the Blondie show. I saw two shows this wknd in Massachusetts at these awful tented "theatre-in-the-round" places, but despite having to see Debbie booty 1/4 of the time (the revolving stage can be so irksome), I was 3rd row one show and 4th row the second, so my extreme proximity to the band made up for the partial frontal views.

For my opinion (cuz you know you need to hear it from this uber-fan)...the Parallel Lines segment was sheer bliss. And its a perfect reminder of what a genius pop album sounds like. For me, the "low" points were the hits - I mean, we've heard them a zillion times by now. But wow - all the songs that I never heard live - I just cant say how orgasmic it was. The Picture This/Fade Away And Radiate/Pretty Baby trio was so astounding, i am still feeling the shovers. Picture This was slightly rearranged and more gorgeous than ever...and Chris (who I love, but has coasted for years while Paul Carbonara plays the lio's share of the guitar) did a sublimely lovely solo that practically made me cry! And Fade Away - to finally hear it live, just blew my head off.

What else? Oh - 11:59, Will Anything Happen, I Know But I Dont Know - also mega-treats, as I'd never heard them live before either, and all sounded amazing. Really, Debbie's vocals were so superb, and as for looks...well, her plastic surgeon is a total genius ( I mean, she looked liked both her 34 year old self and her almost 63 year old self, without any of the tightness and "pulled back" look that fucks up most face lifts).

Oh, I agree -- I'm Gonna Love You Too was fab -- altho i never heard that Debbie picked the song, as you said - i thought it was the record company telling them that the 50s revival was so big that a Buddy Holly cover would be a sure hit (or something to that effect), but whatever - it totally rocked. And I was also disappointed that Just Go Away was just a slow little refrain (I was so excited at the prospect of hearing Deb sing the lines..."you spell, you read, o-u-t out" and "of course cool rhymes with fool")...but that was my only disappointment with the Parallel Lines part of the show.

As for the rest...well, I could happily go without Tide is High or Call me in favor of some goodies from albums one or two, but they masses want the hits, no matter how played out. Rapture is always a live fave of mine, and the Bo Diddley shout out was nice, altho the inane rapping from No Exit was just a jumble to me. The first show i saw had Maria, and the second had Presence, Dear in Maria's place, so that was a nice change for me. We didnt get the Celine cover at either show, and the Stones cover was the final encore at just one show, and I thought it was excellent, yet another Stones cover in a long long line of Blondie/Debbie covering Stones songs.

I guess one thing I really liked about these shows is that the band (sadly without Destri, who i do miss) rocked out more. There were a couple of past shows which seemed too soft, almost "loungey" in parts, like i was watching an amazing Blondie tribute act playing at the Passaic Ramada Inn, rather than the real thing. Despite the sometimes lukewarm reception to the Parallel Lines album tracks, the band showed such energy on those numbers. Dare we hope for a 30th anniversary concert series for Eat To The Bear???

OK, I must shut up now.

Oh -- i should tell you, the Ting Tings show on thursday was so much fucking fun. You really should check out their album.

reporting from Boston, your faithful


nojarama said...

Glad you had a great time! Blondie was the first gig I ever saw (back in the day with Duran Duran opening!- I was in HEAVEN!). I, too, pray for the day of Jimmy's return, but as long as Debbie's still in the band, I'll see 'em!