The scene Blondie at the Sony Centre
Shows that rocked Toronto last week
at Sony Centre, Wednesday, July 26.
BLONDIE with GARBAGE ñ NNNN NPR recently released a list of the 150 greatest albums made by women, the kind of thing that’s fun to read and important to write but by design oh-so frustrating in its omissions. For example there’s just one Blondie album on the list. (Parallel Lines, naturally, at #35.) And nothing by Garbage. But if you were at the Sony Centre on Wednesday, you’d know those two groups should rank high on any list of women who’ve made essential contributions to modern popular music.
Dubbed the Rage And Rapture tour, the double-bill brought New York legends Blondie to Toronto for the first time since 2004, in support of new record Pollinator, alongside Garbage, 90s alt-rockers on a tear back to relevance since 2012’s Not Your Kind Of People. Since it’s still rare to hear two women on commercial radio back-to-back, and festivals are repeatedly called out for lack of gender diversity onstage, it was a welcome, and savvy, pairing.
Shirley Manson was angry when we met her back in 1995; I think she’s angry still. Stalking the stage in a Met Gala-worthy, fire-red gown you could call “Fifth Element Flamenco” and shiny black army boots, the 50-yearold, Scottish-born L.A. resident acknowledged early on the relief of touring Canada at this particular time in history. She went on to dedicate their 2001 song Cherry Lips (Go Baby Go!) to trans members of the U.S. military.
“This is a song we wrote a long, long time ago, long before gender fluidity and transgender was on all of our lips,” she said, after a false start. “And I’m all riled up because it breaks my heart that in this day and age things have gotten so mad that people who want to put their lives on the line for the American public are treated with such disrespect.”
With the notable exception of #1 Crush (the sultry club track was given a clunky live arrangement), the band was super-slick, from their moody Bond theme The World Is Not Enough to the heavier crunch of Push It and I Think I’m Paranoid. Manson is as vital a live performer as any touring today. Put her on your must-see-before-I-die bucket list.
What can you say about Debbie Harry from Blondie? She came out dressed as a bee, with a superheroine cape that read “Stop Fucking the Planet.” (Visit Blondie’s site or follow #beeconnected for Blondie’s bee activism.) She launched into back-to-back bangers One Way Or Another and Hanging On The Telephone like it was 1980 all over again. She danced around, in that non-dance-around way she’s always made seem both standoffish and playful. She did not act her age. She made everyone in the sold-out crowd want to be that cool at whatever age, never mind 72.
To be honest, as is the job here after all, Harry in 2017 is not a great singer. Her voice no longer hits the notes of classics like Rapture and Atomic. But she can entertain like nobody’s business. And her band? Extraordinary.
Blondie co-founding guitarist Chris Stein, 67, takes the lead with such effortless aplomb you barely notice. Or maybe you’re just stunned by 61-yearold drummer Clem Burke, killing it back there. (Relative young gun guitarist Tommy Kessler takes care of the shredding and showboating, as does keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen. If that dude showed up to a casting call for a pornstached keytar player in a fictional new wave band, the director would say he’s too over the top.) They played all the hits you wanted. They covered My Heart Will Go On.
“Rapturous” might be a stretch, but it sure was fun.