(Colosseum at Caesars Windsor, Canada - September 9th, 2011)
Being British, I've been a long time fan of Blondie. The rock band, founded by singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein were pioneers in the early American New Wave and punk scenes of the mid-1970s. Their music infiltrated England from the very beginning, their first four albums - Blondie, Plastic Letters, Parallel Lines and Eat to the Beat - all beloved and adored over there; and all very successful.
Sadly, I never saw them in their heyday and just as I got old enough to consider traveling to see them live around the country, Blondie broke up after the release of their sixth studio album, The Hunter in 1982.
The band than reformed in 1997, achieving renewed success (even a #1 single in the UK with 'Maria' in 1999), and has toured and performed throughout the world during the following years. They even got themselves inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.
And so, here in the 5,000 seater Colosseum at Caesars Windsor, Ontario Canada, Blondie's Panic of Girls tour has come to entertain - and I was very excited. Admittedly, and in the spirit of full disclosure, I am mates with drummer Clem Burke (freshly a PhD), but I promised him that this review would reflect my true, honest journalistic viewpoint of the show. Which, for better or for worse, it most certainly does!
Conservatively taking the stage at 9.10pm, the three original remaining band members (Harry, Stein and Burke) combine forces with guitarist Tommy Kessler, bassist Leigh Foxx, and Matt Katz-Bohen on keyboards and are quickly into their musical groove with 'Union City Blue.' With all eyes, and ears on Harry - herself dressed like a reticent Cyndi Lauper - it is instantly noticeable that she seems to be going through the motions of the song. Thankfully she then gives us a more spirited 'Dreaming.' Bathed in yellow lights, the crowd applaud the classic song.
Musically, one of the best moments of the show comes when a spirited drum solo connects with some wailing guitar and suddenly, rather like an old school 12" remix, 'Atomic' is brought forth. With the band set up in the middle of a huge, otherwise empty stage, Harry then proceeds to wander into the unlit wilderness of stage right. Sadly though, as she begins to sing, her vocal strains show weary depreciation. Couple that with the aforementioned impassive approach, in general, and we most certainly weren't off to the musical races.
"This is a big night for us as we haven't been here for a while," Debbie announces. "We are celebrating the release of our recent album, the Panic of Girls. But, we won't panic! We're gonna start out with 'D-Day'." A new song, it was instantly noticeable that Harry summons more depth of spirit for these tracks.
'Call Me,' coupled with an audience sway and en mass clapping of hands is next, but it's certainly not vocally close to what it used to be. "You look good tonight," Debbie informs the audience, as she sips from a white china mug. "We traditionally do this next song for the girls. Or all those that think they are girls," she laughs, before going into 'Maria.' A song of their latter years that I've always loved, under these purple and blue spot lights, and some nice vocal control, the song was proved to be a nice highlight.
New track 'Girlie Girlie' is next. A reggae, island-flavored number (originally sung by Sophia George) it changes the tone of the show completely. Noticeably though, Debbie has to unsubtly refer to the teleprompter between her speakers for a large amount of the lyrics. Which isn't surprising as that portion of the song must include the name of every single country in the world! 'What I Heard' has a great, pounding flow to it and actually sounds like it could be an old school Blondie track.
Debbie then takes the time to introduce the band. Starting with Chris Stein she also shares the fact that he is known as 'McNasty,' before revealing that Clem Burke had just been certified as a Doctor. And that he was available to do any medical thing that we wanted tonight! The could-do-without 'China Shoes' is next. With the opening lines sung by a Chinese-sounding Harry - which thankfully didn't last - at least it gave the audience a chance to visit the bathrooms.
The Latin influenced, flamenco fast-fun number 'Wipe off My Sweat' may have a questionable title, but man does it shake things up! Just perfectly placed in the set, the song has everyone up and hip shakin'. Bathed in Devil red lighting it was a true highlight of the set. And with Debbie (finally) removing her flimsy white tutu-ish clip-on skirt, now dressed solely in a black top, black leggings with a cool buckle belt for image, at long last this was the Debbie Harry image that everyone had come to see behind a mic.
"Alright, you guys, here we go," she shouts as the crowd get off their seats and rush the stage for a standing-only viewpoint. And it was perfect timing as new track 'Horizontal Twist' was unleashed next. Complete, obviously with massive amounts of actual Twist moments, it was yet another flashback sound to their heyday. 'Mother,' which refers to a club in Manhattan that Debbie used to frequent is next, but it's a set filler; and one that Dr. Burke works hard to keep a decent live track.
A solid drum solo combined with a guitar swagger suddenly get joined by some keyboard-supplied chimes that all lead into the always-beloved 'Rapture' - which itself then bleeds straight into the Beastie Boys' '(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right.' Sadly, the former contained the weakest vocal performance of the night from Harry, but at least there was no teleprompter required for the infamous rap chorus. But the latter turned out to be a wicked extended rock version and a lot of fun to listen to.
And as the fist-pumpin' crowd dies down, Blondie give us the last song of the set, 'One Way Or Another.' Amazingly, and out of nowhere, Harry's deep vocal power is riding high now and she sounds great throughout the song! A true classic song from a truly in-her-prime-sounding singer, this was indeed a very cool way to close the show.
Of course, an encore was inevitable and as the band returns just some three minutes later, Harry (complete with china mug) addresses the audience. "Are you all having fun so far?" After a generous response from her fans they bring us 'Love Doesn't Frighten Me.' A rather catchy pop song for sure, but as it ends and a telephone rings in the background, it's the fan-cherished 'Hanging On The Telephone' that gets us all to our feet. As the fourth ring kicks in, Debbie 'answers it' - "Hello, is this Caesars Windsor. This is Blondie calling." And then we're headlong into it, but by now Harry's vocals are cracking, her actual fortitude of vocalized effectiveness ripped away.
The final song of the night, the highly-anticipated 'Heart of Glass' does, however, give everyone a glimpse of Blondie as they once where. Everyone, and I mean everyone are up on their feet, the stage lights spinning colorfully out of control, the band rockin' it out. And an arm-swaying Harry is trying to give it all that she has left in the tank. With an extended ending, one that included a really instrument-powered finale, the song is done. And as the band walk off waving, Harry's final words ring in our ears, "Thank you so much, everybody. Have a wonderful weekend."
Review by: Russell A. Trunk
Photos by: Roger Lauzon
Caesars Windsor Upcoming Shows
The Moody Blues
Roger Daltrey, and More!
Box Office hours:
Non Show Day...........12pm-8pm