Words by Farrah Skeiky, Photos by Christopher Chen
Blondie and X represent two very different strains of early punk, so to claim that the two are similar solely based on the fact that both are fronted by women is grossly unfair. Instead, it is important to understand why the existence of this touring lineup is so exciting to begin with, and why these leading ladies are so memorable.
X made their way into the spotlight in the bohemian landscape of 1980s Los Angeles with an album of the same name by incorporating blues and rockabilly influences into a burgeoning punk scene. Each band member came to LA from different corners of the country, and each brought with them elements that cemented their very different personalities. You could easily say that the only thing the four had in common was the music they wanted to make.
When it comes to X, the only frills involved are that of Exene’s slip. The original lineup appear as they always have: each donning a unique style of dress and performance. Billy Zoom’s got the same smile, same bowling shirts, same serene expression while ripping apart a classic solo, and the same flirty attitude with girls and photographers alike. Exene and John Doe still banter like only two bandmates who married and divorced decades ago could. The set was a smattering of nearly every successful album, and naturally songs from Los Angeles got the crowd the most riled up. But any nostalgia experienced during this set was created on the part of the audience: X has never aimed to take you back to the good old days, and doesn’t rely on the nostalgia factor to coast through a set. Strong performances reigned supreme, and those who knew nothing of X before left incredibly impressed.
On the other hand, Blondie’s set was built on nothing but nostalgia and projected graphics that must have come from a Windows ’98 installation disk. Yes, it was a tremendously fun, yet occasionally confusing performance. And yes, Debbie Harry is still a fantastic show-woman at age 68. She entered the stage wearing what could have been a wizard or dementor costume, and later joked that it was her cap and gown. As the weird layers fell away, there was indeed a schoolgirl uniform hiding underneath. But a Blondie concert is nothing without the hits, and in many cases the hits were the only thing the vast majority of the audience knew.
It’s exceedingly difficult to kick off a set with “One Way or Another” and keep that momentum going by following up with a new track off an album that hasn’t yet been released. Everything post-No Exit (“Maria” was a stunner and probably the most beautiful singalong of the night) was received with half-hearted reception from a mostly older crowd who almost seemed to be in a high school reunion mindset: Blondie was cool, and Blondie is still cool, and you want to like the new songs, but they just don’t fit in with the tried and true singles.
The nostalgia-riddled ‘hail to the 80s’ factor continued with the selected covers– obviously “Hanging on the Telephone” and “Tide is High” had to be played, but an excellent encore was betrayed by a rendition of “Relax” by Frankie goes to Hollywood, which will apparently appear on the upcoming album Ghosts of Downloads Past. If Debbie Harry and Chris Stein are going to continue making music that moves away from post punk and further into reggae and Caribbean influences, the notion of 80s fame has to be abandoned. Performing a concert in which 50% of the night relies on it and 50% ignores it makes for an inconsistent performance with many peaks and valleys. It’s an easy way to alienate your fanbase.
Despite all this, there’s no denying how brilliant and bright all our favorite songs have remained. Debbie’s voice is still gorgeous, her spunky personality has aged well, and the new band members touring with herself and Chis Stein were expertly chosen– their virtuous performances only strengthened these beloved tunes. A keytar solo in the middle of “Call Me” should be a terrible idea and play right into the 80s nostalgia factor, but it was surprisingly at home when it was made clear that this was all in the name of fun. I can only imagine that when Blondie learn to strike a balance between who’ve they’ve been and who they aim to be, their live shows won’t leave anyone questioning whether or not they can exist without the weight of a decade behind them.