Sunday, September 29, 2013

Blondie / X - Live 2013.09.26

Apparently Blondie played at this same venue almost exactly a year ago, but with Devo opening. That would have been cool. This was pretty cool, too, though, so I can hardly complain.

Artist: Blondie
Venue: Stubb's Bar-B-Q
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: 26 September 2013
Opening Act: X [the LA punk band]

Setlist:
01. One Way or Another
02. Rave
03. Hanging on the Telephone (The Nerves cover)
04. Union City Blue
05. A Rose by Any Name
06. The Tide Is High (The Paragons cover)
07. Drag You Around
08. Maria
09. Winter
10. Rapture → No Sleep Till Brooklyn (Beastie Boys cover)
11. Atomic
12. What I Heard
13. Wipe Off My Sweat
14. Sugar on the Side
15. Heart of Glass
Encore:
16. Take Me in the Night
17. Mile High
18. Call Me
19. Relax (Frankie Goes to Hollywood cover)
20. Dreaming

Review:
The X in question here is the LA punk band formed in 1977, not the Australian punk band, nor any of the many other bands that happen to share the same name. As best as I could tell, the current version of the band features all of the original founding members. They played a bunch of songs with hardly a pause, which they said was probably preferable for everyone involved instead of babbling too much. I was surprised that bassist John Doe probably sang more than frontwoman Exene Cervenka did, but otherwise they were about what I expected. They play decent punk music, but they aren't pushing boundaries. The weirdest part was guitarist Billy Zoom. He seemed like a cartoon character: he was smiling nearly the whole time, hardly noticing the riffs that he kicked out, focusing rather on staring semi-creepily into the audience.

Blondie has retained singer Debbie Harry, guitarist Chris Stein, and drummer Clem Burke from their earliest days, but have more recently added lead guitarist Tommy Kessler, bassist Leigh Foxx, and keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen. Harry came on stage wearing a X shirt and sunglasses (despite that the sun had already gone down); she sang and spoke enthusiastically but regularly wore a frown whenever she wasn't singing. She finally took the sunglasses off after five or six songs, although Stein never removed his. While Harry glowed in the spotlight, Stein and Burke mostly kept to the back. Burke regularly twirled and tossed his drumsticks but otherwise was hardly a showman; Stein only played a handful of the lead guitar parts and even then, he still usually hid behind the other guitarist.

The newer members were a little more active. Kessler, noticeably younger than most of the others, happily took the front of the stage for his leads and even shredded up a few solos. That was perhaps a little more than I had bargained for, but I suppose it wasn't completely out of place. Katz-Bohen sang backing vocals while handling several keyboards; he too seemed a bit younger and more energetic than the old hands, but maybe that was just because he was wearing a glittery keyboard-pattern vest with no shirt underneath. Lastly, but certainly not least, was Foxx, who seemed like he would have fit right in with Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. He stood out mostly because his instrument was the loudest in the mix.

Actually, I think the mix of the entire night was probably the oddest part of the whole venture. X's mix was fairly typical of rock concerts: drums were way too loud, guitar was a little too loud, the bass was hardly present, and the vocals were somewhat muddy and thus hard to understand. Blondie's mix was more confusing: while the drums were loud, the bass was really loud. After that, everything else was a bit congested. The guitars were often indistinguishable unless one watched the players' hands, and even then that didn't always help. The keyboards and vocals were a crapshoot – sometimes they were discernible and clear, but often they were dark and difficult to pick out.

That being said, Blondie has always had a knack for good melodies, and by playing almost all of their greatest hits, they showed off a continual stream of talented songwriting. I was pleased that they didn't only take the predictable route; they incorporated several songs from their 2011 album Panic of Girls and their upcoming album Ghosts of Download into their setlist, and even if I didn't know them and I didn't find them quite as appealing as the classics, I still appreciated it. The biggest surprises were the unexpected covers. When "Rapture" was extended into a heavy rock jam, I didn't even realize at the time that the song had morphed into the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Till Brooklyn", which made for a fairly hilarious homage. Similarly, choosing the near-novelty classic "Relax" as their penultimate song was almost too hard to take seriously, but they rocked it. Apparently, the song will be present on their upcoming album, which I'm sure will result in a delightfully absurd listen.

The other highlight was probably the keytar solo in "Call Me". Yes, out of nowhere, Katz-Bohen suddenly had a keytar strapped on, and he came to the front of stage to work his magic. For the rest of the night, he stuck to his keyboard racks, but I'm glad he got at least one moment in the spotlight.

Actually, I was a bit surprised that "Dreaming" was the closer, but I suppose I'm probably not the only one that really likes that song, and the band probably knows that.

Scores:
X: C
Blondie: B

P.S. I probably would have enjoyed myself a lot more if the mix had been better and if three pushy jerks hadn't shoved themselves into my spot halfway through the show.

P.P.S. Thanks to Amelia for encouraging me to go!