Blondie, Mustang: O2 Apollo, Manchester
With Blondie’s new album arguably being their most popular in two decades, Shaun Ponsonby finds a band far from resting on their laurels.
Seeing an icon in the flesh always feels special, and there are few more iconic than Debbie Harry.
Would it be hysterical to suggest that she just gets cooler with age? She was always cool, and a pin-up. But not only has she maintained all of this, but she owns her iconic status and possesses an attitude that screams “I’ve done it all, baby, and I’m not done yet”.
Her persona is somewhere between Marilyn Monroe and a punk kid from the streets. I’ve always felt she was influenced by the likes of Ronnie Spector and The Shangri-La’s Mary Weiss in that respect, and recordings of Blondie covering the latter’s Out In The Streets confirms it.
That the band have the sheer audacity to kick off their set with One Way Or Another and Hanging On The Telephone also underlines it. These are closers, they should be encores, and with any other band they would be. But nope! They have the confidence to eschew this expected formality and to just burst on stage with a song that is bigger than the band – an anthem all over the world.
The show they bring is huge. Blondie are an arena band by rights, and this felt by the performance tonight. When the house lights go down, three screens at the back of the stage show static interference as they take to the stage and remain active throughout, with new song Fun showing particularly engrossing visuals of some kind of futuristic nightclub.
It would be so easy for them to go down the nostalgia route, playing these greatest hits with the obligatory two “new” songs acting as prime moments for bathroom breaks in the crowd. But it’s to their credit that they don’t. In fact, new album Pollinator – arguably their most successful album since 1999’s comeback effort No Exit – is front and centre in the show, forming around a third of the set list.
Debbie even enters the stage wearing a bee mask, not just as a nod to the album cover, but also to the Manchester bee, the symbol adopted since the Manchester Arena attack earlier in the year. Her jacket also includes the somewhat profound message “Stop fucking the planet”.
What does stick out though is how well the new material fits with the hits. They feel like old favourites and it isn’t until we’re on the train home that we realise how many of their biggest hits were missing, with the bold choice made to play so much of the new record. No The Tide Is High. No (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear. No X Offender, Denis, In The Flesh or Rip Her To Shreds.
And it really doesn’t matter. We still got Heart of Glass, Atomic, Call Me, Picture This, Rapture and Maria. We got an unexpected Fade Away and Radiate and for some reason a cover of the Beastie Boys’ (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!).
By the time they finished with Union City Blue and Dreaming, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone without a smile on their face.
Debbie Harry; once a bad ass, always a bad ass.
Coming out of France, garage rock band Mustang sang their support set in their mother tongue. Perhaps this, along with the bizarre decision to have the audience enter the auditorium to absolutely no music playing over the PA, perhaps contributed to something of a muted response.
With a name like Mustang, we were nervous going in that they would be a little too cliché, and indeed they began by playing a very surf-like instrumental. However, by mid-set they had managed to capture the room. We’re not going to make any kind of hyperbolic claim about their potential.
Supporting Blondie is likely to be the highlight of their career. But they were a pleasant enough distraction for half an hour or so until we saw Ms Harry.
Photos by Vicky Pea