By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
Blondie performed all four of their No. 1 hits during Tuesday’s concert at Crossroads KC, but they opened their encore set with someone else’s chart topper.
Playing with an energy that recalled their CBGB’s heyday, the sextet slammed through a surprising cover of Celine Dion’s “Titanic hit “My Heart Will Go On.” It is unsure what was more shocking: that Blondie covered Celine Dion; or that it was really, really good.
If Blondie ever get around to making another album, that cover should definitely be included. Until then, the back catalog satisfied the nearly full venue. The 80-minute set played like a greatest hits album and clocked in at about the same length.
High points included a blistering “Rapture” that went from the rap hit to punk to a blues jam and finally ended up in the band’s hip-hop update, “No Exit.” Debbie Harry’s voice isn’t as strong as it used to be, but “Maria” put to rest any questions on her strength as a singer. She nailed the big notes of the chorus and the lower register of the verses.
Drummer Clem Burke was the group’s secret weapon. Throughout the night, the founding member set the tone by opening and closing most numbers, driving the rest of the band with his powerful playing and delivering emphatic fills that always seemed to enhance the performance. His moody playing underlined the dark moodiness of the one-two of “Fade Away and Radiate” and “Screaming Skin.”
When the band stretched out on “Atomic,” Harry retreated to the shadows at the side of the stage. She may have been out of the spotlight, but it was clear with the two detours into her solo catalog that Harry was always in the driver’s seat.
Harry reclaimed center stage with the reggae sing-along of “The Tide Is High” that drew the biggest response of the night. Harry made sure the crowd stayed involved by switching from to a cover of “I’ll Take You There.” She may have transformed the Staples Singers’ hit from social anthem to come-on, but the audience still hung on every word. When the band flipped back to “Tide,” there were scores of arms waving and fingers aloft, responding to the chorus “The tide is high but I’m holding on/I’m gonna be your number one.”
Fifty minutes earlier it was the band holding one finger in the air, as the performers frantically signaled to the soundman to turn up their monitors. Opening number “Call Me” suffered from dropped coverage, with Harry’s weak vocals buried in a horrible mix that seemed to frustrate both band and audience. The sound improved during “Hanging on the Telephone,” the next number, but it took until the fourth song, “The Hardest Part,” for everything to click.
Once the sound was solved, the band rocked like a finely tuned machine. Although only half of the six musicians onstage were original members, most of the rest have been onboard since the band reunited 10 years ago.
The evening ended with three straight No. 1 hits. After the Dion cover and the disco thump of “Heart of Glass,” Blondie segued into “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” Michael Jackson moments have become the cliché of the summer, but this inspired pairing made complete musical sense and kept bodies moving.
Few of Blondie’s peers in the late ‘70s New York punk scene had as much mainstream success as Blondie, and even fewer of those acts are still going today. Although the night may have ended sooner than expected, there were few complaints with what it delivered. At this point, we’re happy to take what we can get.
Setlist: Call Me, Hanging on the Telephone, Two Times Blue, The Hardest Part, Fade Away and Radiate, Screaming Skin, Maria, Atomic, The Tide Is High/I’ll Take You There, You’re Too Hot, Rapture/jam/No Exit, One Way Or Another. Encore: My Heart Will Go On, Heart of Glass, Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough