Debbie Harry doesn’t know if the kids still hang by the phone anymore but that doesn’t stop her from plowing through hits like “One Way or Another” or “Hanging on the Telephone,” the Nerves cover that brought Harry’s band to number 5 on the UK charts in 1978. Blondie may need little introduction but even the most ardent fan might have missed the band’s last three LPs, all released in the last decade and only one of which was packaged alongside a greatest hits comp. The latest of these was last year’s Pollinator, an album about Harry’s more recent foray into apiculture which features an aggressive bee on the Shepard Fairey-designed cover. It is also probably the only record where you will experience the songwriting talent of Charli XCX, Johnny Marr and Sia on one disc and communicated through the gravely spikes of Harry’s voice.
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A live dose of this kick was most recently provided to nostalgic Brooklynites courtesy of the Van’s sneaker corporation, who begun moving their brand name into urban skateparks in 2011, hosting free concerts and free beer in hopes to expand on offered flavors of cool then evoked by their longstanding partnership with the Warped Tour, a traveling roadshow popular in the suburbs and a regular heaven of pop punk delights. As it happens, the Warped Tour is no more and ditto the Brooklyn branch of rubber sole and guitar rock. Blondie were among the House of Van’s closing act, joined that evening by fellow yesterday’s news-bringer Liz Phair and Sasami Ashworth, an unsigned and self-proclaimed “synth queen.”
Ashworth, who records as SASAMI, briefly served as keyboardist in Clementine Creevy’s volatile Cherry Glazerr lineup, revealed herself as a radiant stylist of barely-kept rage. Think the Angel Olsen of “Unfucktheworld” not content to stay inside her songs but lash into the lives of bros waiting in line for beer with bad haircuts and not enough scruff. Phair who has been busily touring in the wake of an expansive reissue of her early 90s catalog, was all brandpower: wearing both a Blondie t-shirt and effusively complimenting the Vans sneaker line. “Fuck and Run” still bops but sounds tame after someone like SASAMI, who has promised that her debut record will be about ““Everyone I fucked and who fucked me last year.” Phair’s choice to close on her hit “Why Can’t I?” was more poignant, penned in 2003 by the same team that wrote “Complicated” the year before, it is also the only work of a former Matador Records artist to have made a dent in the Now That’s What I Call Music! catalog.
But of the lot, Blonide is worth seeing as many times as you can fit into a lifetime. Harry is donning this eco-savior outfit complete with superhero cape and jumps around, selling the songs like a barker or a punk, be they greatest hits or comeback singles. Her posture is present, alive, Chris Stein can barely keep up on songs he’s played two hundred times. In the middle of “Rapture,” their younger keyboardist whips out keytar and he looks like a dead ringer for Julian Casablancas. How crazy to find punk here, thirty years after the expiration date inside lyrics and power chords I recall from romcom montages performed at a dying sponcon freebie?