An interesting thing happened during the course of Blondie’s visit to Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park Friday night.
The more clothes that Debbie Harry shed, the more animated and vocally confident she became.
When the band first took the stage, Harry was clad in a bulky red taffeta skirt, an oddly tight top with a red tie and shades.
During the opening trio of “Union City Blue,” “Dreaming” and “Atomic,” Harry delivered her lines in an apathetic manner different than her signature cool. She often stood stoically near the drum riser when not singing – likely to cede the spotlight to hotshot young guitarist Tommy Kessler who burned though an “Atomic” solo – but moved with stilted caution.
While (original) drummer Clem Burke belied his age (56) with the frantic high-hat work and thrilling tom-tom fills that anchor nearly every Blondie song, Harry looked and sounded like she felt her 66 years, particularly on a flat rendition of “Call Me” – delivered with a smile, but a bit of detached obligation. At least the presence of a key-tar, played by Matt Katz-Bohen, projected a bit of kitschy fun.
During “Love Doesn’t Frighten Me,” a slice of glittery, throbbing pop from the band’s superlative new album, “Panic of Girls,” and the always-welcome “Maria,” Harry demonstrated she could still strike a pose with those porcelain cheekbones. But as good as the band sounded, something still felt underwhelming.
The great shift in temperature came as Kessler’s fingers danced through the cool Latin-inspired intro to “Wipe Off My Sweat” – another excellent track on “Panic” – and Harry whipped off the distracting skirt and unbuttoned her shirt, revealing a slim figure in Capri pants and tank top.
Suddenly, she moved freer, and, while she had made eye contact and waved purposefully at audience members throughout the show, she now exuded heat as she bopped across the stage during “Horizontal Twist,” a bonus song on “Panic” stocked with whizzing keyboards, a cascade of cymbals and an infectious chorus.
This was the rare concert where the new music from a veteran band was equally as enjoyable as those songs that Harry called “treasured”; she, Burke and co-founding guitarist Chris Stein seemed invigorated whenever a fresh tune arrived, but by the latter third of Blondie’s 80-minute set, Harry was firmly in icon mode.
“Rapture” was performed under dark, club-like lighting, which worked well with the song’s pulsing rhythm and Harry’s chime-like vocals. She unleashed a flawless rap while engaging in some silly-fun gyrating before segueing into a spunky rock take on a few lines of the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” and the criminally underrated “One Way or Another,” a song that fuses every signature element of Blondie’s sound – pop, rock, disco, New Wave — with a blast of fizz.
While the band hadn’t performed “The Tide is High” at some shows earlier in this three-week-old U.S. tour, it landed in the Atlanta set list. To some (ahem), it will always be one of those songs that should only be performed ad nauseum at karaoke nights or by Vegas casino lounge bands.
But this crowd of a few thousand – dotted with plenty of teens amid those who might actually remember Blondie’s CBGB days – was thrilled to sway to “Tide”’s Caribbean-lite groove, happy as well that “fun” Debbie had finally come out to play.
Check out our recent interview with Debbie Harry: http://www.accessatlanta.com/atlanta-music/blondie-sparks-fall-concert-1165819.html
Follow me on Twitter: @ajclifestyle