Enmore Theatre, Sydney
December 7, 2010
By BOB SHORT
Someone at Frontier Touring racked their poor addled brain for an "Aussie rock chick" to play special guest on a double headlining bill of "iconic rock chicks" (as no doubt they envisioned this event). The best they could come up with was Adalita (ex of Magic Dirt). I could have come up with some better suggestions but I'll just be thankful for small mercies. They could have put Sarah McLeod (ex of Superjesus) up there. The horror. The horror. We'll move right along because there's nothing to see. I was never big on vegan rock and roll, anyway.
The last time I saw Blondie was at the State Theatre in 1977. "Denis" was announced as a new addition to their set. They played Iggy's "Funtime". The 200-300 people who jumped out of their seats to crowd the front of the stage were mostly Oxford Fun House regulars and we knew every nuance, note and word. A goddess walked amongst us. We worshipped her. We worshipped the ground where she walked. The band was pretty good too. The big hits and gold discs were still before them but we knew they were on the way. We dreamt of a world where Iggy would be king and Debbie would be queen. Well, did you ever?
Okay, fast forward to reality, in a 2010 style. It's eight o'clock and Debbie hits the stage. Remember how there were some dreary band members who used to sport "Blondie are a band" badges and shirts? They're gone now (Band members, badges and tees). The reality is Debbie is Blondie. Chris Stein plays skulk-off-to-the-side guitar but Clem Burke remains the monster skin thumper of yore. As for the rest of the ring-ins, when this gig is over, they'll always find solid, consistent work in studios, stadia and the like. Does any of this matter? Not if Debbie is on the stage.
She comes dressed for kindy in flat white dancing pumps and a dress made out of net curtains. Anyone else who attempted this look would look like an insane bag lady. Debbie, of course, pulls the whole ensemble off with style. All she has to do is flash the audience one of those big Debbie smiles and we love her. She has lost about half of her vocal range and relies on the audience to fill most of the gaps. Do we care? What remains of her voice still has that honey rich warmth that runs tingles down your spine. Despite a sold out crowd, you feel as if she sings to you and you alone. When she can't sing the notes, she does that actorly thing of speaking the lines. Fine. It still sounds like Debbie. You got a problem with that?
She manages a passable hula in "The Tide is High" but, other than that, her dancing days are pretty much done. She waves to the crowd and we forgive her. Hell, we adore her. When Debbie goes off for a rest at the side of stage, we even forgive the "blistering" Van Halen style solos dished out by session guitarist number one. It's okay. We know Debbie needs to catch her breath. We understand. We get a fair bit of new material (probably because it is written in Debbie's current range). We get all the big eighties singles like "Atomic", "Rapture" and "Union City Blues" but, in the set proper, we get nothing earlier than "Hanging on the Telephone". The encore is a quick talk through of "In the Flesh" followed by the inevitable "Heart of Glass". There was not a microsecond of the set that I didn't have a big old smile slapped across my face. Age may have wearied her but Debbie Harry is still a goddess and I have stood before that radiance. Hell, I wouldn't want to be Chrissie Hynde.
"I'm just the great Pretender, pretending that I'm doing fine. My need is such. I pretend too much," booms through the public address system with no sense of irony. What was I saying about vegan rock and roll? Oh yes. That's right. I hate it.
Chrissie tells us that "Blondie are the greatest pop band ever. But we're not a pop band." Her problems begin right there. Of course, the Pretenders were a pop band but Chrissie wants to rock. She says she's so happy to be playing in a rock and roll venue and not a stadium but then plays like she's in a stadium. Everything is about control. The drummer sits in a Perspex box. The solos are written down to the slightest hint of a bend. Her greatest assets are crushed by the sheer bloody minded perfectionism. Whilst songs like "Kid", "Back on the Chain Gang" and "Talk of the Town" can at least stand up to this kind of manhandling, "I Go to Sleep" is hammered out like an anthem. On the records, Chrissie Hynde's voice is drenched in emotion. But those were pop records and now we must rock. Unfortunately, her words now are delivered without the benefit of animal protein.
In London, there was this guy who used to go out every day with his sandwich boards, posters and pamphlets to decry the consumption of meat. He'd been doing it for twenty years when I got there and he was still doing it twenty years later when I left. "Eat beans and nuts," he proclaimed because eating animal products provokes lust, anger and all those other popular human emotions. If Chrissie Hynde really wants to rock, she needs to eat a bloody great steak.
I make it about half way through the set before deciding to go home. I don't really need to hear the kind of damage she will administer to "2,000 Miles" and I don't particularly want to hear "Brass in Pocket" ever again after its subjugation into the world of advertising jingle. I'd rather hear the records than remember her this way.