By Chris Kaltenbach
City & Shore PRIME
Blondie is still a group.
Back in the group’s ’70s heyday, when it was one of the biggest (and most popular) things to come out of New York’s punk movement, buttons with that slogan were a reminder that the band was more than Debbie Harry, its powerful and arrestingly photogenic lead singer.
Maybe it’s time those buttons made a comeback, to remind people that Blondie is not only a band that’s been around for more than 40 years, but one that’s determined to make music as fresh and vital as ever.
Blondie is not, Harry insists, an oldies band. When the group, which still includes founders Harry and Chris Stein and longtime drummer Clem Burke, plays Hard Rock Live in Hollywood on Aug. 8, audiences will most likely get the songs they’ve known for years – hits like Call Me, Heart of Glass and Rapture.
But, based on set lists from the band’s current tour, they’ll hear a lot more than those three-decade-old chestnuts.
“It’s sort of a little bit of a problem for us, and I think for a lot of bands that have been around for a while,” Harry says. “Audiences want to hear the songs that they love, they want to hear the classics. But since we’ve been playing them so long, we want to play something different.”
Not, Harry stresses, that the hits — and there were plenty of them, including four songs that reached the top of the Billboard singles charts between 1978 and 1981 — are going to disappear from the band’s playlist anytime soon.
“The reward of doing something that is 40 years old and having the audience go crazy — there’s nothing better than that,” Harry says. “But I also want to feel creative and in-the-moment. Which is not always easy.”
So expect also to hear songs from Pollinator, the band’s 11th studio album – released to generally favorable reviews in May – including Too Much and Long Time. “Forty years into their career and Blondie are still prepared to push boundaries,” The Guardian wrote.
As the band’s longtime fans know, one of Blondie’s strengths has always been its ability to straddle genres. In the early years, that meant going from the punk aesthetic of X Offender to the disco rhythms of Heart of Glass to the pioneering hip-hop of Rapture, which in 1981 became the first song featuring rap to top the U.S. charts.
Harry, who turned 72 earlier this month, says Blondie still cherishes its eclecticism. The good news is that audiences seem to have caught up with the group, she says, and are no longer as hesitant to embrace music outside their immediate comfort zone.
“Audiences actually are much more sophisticated now, tastes are broader,” she says. “You’ll find people … that really like a lot of different kinds of pop music, or rock or hip-hop or whatever. There’s more spread to it.”
Still, Harry acknowledges, it’s sometimes hard to believe that Blondie has been making music for more than 40 years. And the group’s fans have stuck with them, enduring a 15-year layoff that stretched from 1982 to 1997, as well as lineup changes that have left only her and Stein remaining from the group that came storming out of such legendary New York venues as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City in the mid-’70s.
“It’s amazing to me,” she says. “You imagine yourself as being a gigantic rock star, but you don’t expect such longevity. Especially since we took that long hiatus in the middle – to come back and have people loving us and wanting to hear the music …
“There’s no comparison to anything,” Harry says after pausing for a moment. “It’s almost a miracle, really. How could I ask for anything more?”
- Chris Kaltenbach writes for The Baltimore Sun.
IF YOU GO
Blondie and Garbage “The Rage and Rapture Tour,’’ with special guest Deap Vally, 7 p.m. Aug. 8 at Hard Rock Live, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood, 866-502-7529, seminolehardrockhollywood.com.