Never mess with an angry bee. Isn’t that what we, as children, were taught? As the excitement soared in the majestic 02 Apollo, this warning was definitely something to heed. Once diva Debbie Harry appeared, seconds after her band, wearing an eerie, gilded bumblebee mask over her face, she set the scene for a badass night. Even the print on her jacket echoed the stance: STOP FUCKING THE PLANET. (She eventually ditched the mask, replacing it with a sultry pair of dark shades, an even better sight.)

Although this was one of eight performances in the UK, one would have thought this legendary New Wave band had swooped down from another planet and would never appear again; the excitement was that palpable. Teams of giggling young ladies exchanged excited glances, as they pushed as close to the stage as security would allow. There was a phenomenal spectrum of ages present, although my vantage point alerted me to an especially young crowd.

Rather than making fans beg, Blondie swung immediately into the perfectly pitched “getcha-getcha-getcha” of ‘One Way or Another’. For those who don’t know the makeup, Debbie Harry co-founded the band with guitarist Chris Stein in the mid-70’s. Stein co-wrote ‘Heart of Glass,

‘Dreaming’ and ‘Rapture’. They were soon joined by drummer Clem Burke, who has enjoyed a solid membership since 1975. Burke admires Keith Moon, Wrecking Crew’s Hal Blaine and Ringo. During the Blondie hiatus of 1982-1997, the award-winning percussionist also played with the Romantics, Pete Townshend, Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop and Joan Jett. Bassist Leigh Foxx (Patti Smith, Cyndi Lauper) has performed with Blondie for twenty years.

Then came Midwesterner and guitar giant (from Springboro, Ohio), Tommy Kessler, who joined Blondie in 2010. Kessler’s early classical/Latin training surely paid off, which would be proven many times tonight. Multi-instrumentalist/primary keyboardist Matt Katz-Boen is another dynamo. He joined the band two years earlier than Kessler. Yet the dates really don’t matter; this band excels with a singular heartbeat.

Harry made a few comments throughout the night—she briefly talked about new album ‘Pollinator’ and also got excited when introducing the players. But the night mostly revolved around a great swirl of classic and contemporary hits.

‘Hanging on the Telephone’ involved some charming and comical theatrics. ‘Fun’ and ‘Call Me’ made the honey bees in the first row so blissed out, they acted out every line of the narrative.

“You know the problem with you / You’re too good to be true…” They mimed from beginning to end for the former. What other song screams so loud for the keytar?

The material was excellently paced. ‘Gravity’ from the new album was playfully enacted. “You chewed my heart and spat it out,” Harry belted. The rhythm section settled quickly into a hip--hop for ‘Rapture’ a funky showbiz piece which fed off Harry’s sweet soprano and then carried her into a feisty spoken word. ‘Fragments’ was a real show stopper, too, but in an entirely different way. Harry expressed a real fondness for this one; her rich contralto as sincere as ever, as she uttered, “Do you love me now?” before completely rocking out.

‘Maria’ derived its energy from Burke’s bright fills and Katz-Boen’s nifty effects. ‘Picture This’ seemed a little lost in the shuffle. But the love came back with the passionate ‘Too Much’. “I’m not free / I can hardly breathe / You locked me outside my heart.” Harry’s phrases floated, amid the instrumental breaks.

No matter what song, the audience showed their star that that they were there to interact, and not just marvel.

Some fans get prickly when artists draw from a new work, but ‘Too Much’ and ‘Long Time’ are well-crafted and fresh. I especially enjoyed the dreamy bridge that separates the romantic stanzas and Burke’s excellent drumwork. “Take me, then lose me, then tell them I’m yours,” Harry purred, as the synth echoed warmly across the arena.

The short phrases of these songs were just perfect for Harry’s voice, allowing her the physical freedom to make bold moves and express her undying affection, with open arms or a flirty

glance. For a sharp contrast, Tommy Kessler gave everything he had to perform rhapsodic solos on his electric guitar. ‘Atomic’ with its throbbing riffery was a rave unto itself.

Few songs carry the chutzpah that radiates from ‘Heart of Glass’. Nobody in the room dared not to sing, it was as though, to join in was an obligatory rite of passage.

Harry carried herself immensely well throughout the entire set. Her vocals sounded full and reflected the mood of each song, but her team was just as savvy, just as spot-on.

The encore was more than generous: ‘Fade Away and Radiate’ (the band’s first performance of the song since 2010), ‘Union City Blue’ and ‘Dreaming’. Blondie was at its most alluring for the first. Harry’s precise enunciation on the cool imagery-- “electric faces seem too much” reminded us that she’s a Class A interpreter. ‘Union City Blue’ was also a stunner and 1979’s ‘Dreaming’ was a brilliant way to bid adieu.

But even after the trippy beats dissipated, Harry looked reluctant to leave the stage. She seemed just as anxious to express her appreciation for the intergenerational crowd as she did earlier in the set. Her smile lit up the stadium. And the fans? They drank it all up. Like a honeybee, siphoning nectar.

Set List:

One Way or Another
Hanging on the Telephone
Call Me
Fragments (Unkindness)
Picture This
Too Much
Long Time
Heart of Glass


Fade Away and Radiate
Union City Blue

Photos by Philamonjaro

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