Blondie, Johnny Marr at Leeds, First Direct Arena. 04/05/22

Words and Photos by Steve White 

43 years ago Debbie Harry adorned the wall of my early teens bedroom. In amongst Buzzcocks, The Clash et-al was a giant poster of Harry, arms crossed over her chest, wearing a pair of shorts. I saw them a couple of times back then and again on their triumphant 1999 comeback tour but it’s over 20 years since I last saw them so it’s with a mixture of excitement and a little concern that I arrive at tonight’s concert. Will this celebrated band still be able to produce the goods?

It’s a disappointment that Garbage, the original support on this Against The Odds tour, are no longer playing but that was announced two years ago and considering what the world has been through since it’s little wonder things have changed. Instead it’s Johnny Marr, one time guitarist with The Smiths and now a bit of a legend in his own right having released a number of solo albums, who opens proceedings.

Restrictions of a photo pass mean I only get to see three songs. I was never a Smiths fan and haven’t followed Marr since so this is no big disappointment until he walks on stage and delivers three songs that had me hooked from their opening notes. Yes one was a Smiths song (Panic) but Amatopia and Night and Day show Marr to be a stellar performer who has the crowd in the palm of his hand from the beginning. By the time we’re ushered out of our allocated photo area I’m wishing I’d had the opportunity to see the whole set.

Blondie. A trip down the lane of nostalgia for teenage chart lovers now in their 50’s? An iconic band who still have a hard core following? A good night out for those who remember two or three massive hits from years gone by? The chance to simply say “I’ve seen Blondie” who, lets face it, are a band almost everyone from teenagers to pensioners has heard of? It’s almost certainly a mix of them all and although this tour features only two of the original members – Chris Stein having pulled out due to health issues – that doesn’t diminish the enthusiasm of tonight’s packed out audience or the rapturous welcome they give the band as they walk on stage. And there’s also the welcome addition of Sex Pistol Glen Matlock on bass.

In front of a visually stunning backdrop of comic book characters, quotes and pop-art graphics Blondie open with 1976 single X-Offender and from this point on it’s a show rammed with timeless classics. X Offender rolls into the thunderous Hanging On The Telephone which is followed immediately by Sunday Girl. Little wonder then that the whole place is filled with waving arms, people on their feet (it’s a seated gig) dancing, huge smiles and yelps of excitement. Deborah Harry doesn’t need to do much to hold the attention of a crowd. Few people in music can be described as a true icon but Harry most certainly can. At 76 she’s still immediately recognisable, her voice still capable of sending a shiver through you. Behind her the powerhouse that is Clem Burke – surely one of the best drummers ever – provides a roaring backbeat to classic songs that never seem to date. Picture This follows Sunday Girl bringing with it a huge singalong from those around me. Five songs in and Mother moves the clock forward 30 years providing a moment for dedicated fans aware of more than just the huge hits. But it is those massive tunes from the late 70’s that drive the exuberant atmosphere.

Atomic, (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear, Union City Blue, Dreaming, Heart Of Glass and more. Anyone wanting to be transported back to their teenage years couldn’t ask for more. 1999 comeback single Maria and What I Heard from 2011’s Panic Of Girls slot seamlessly into the main set. With so many crowd pleasers to choose from it’s not surprising that only three songs are played from most recent album Pollinator. A shame in some ways as it’s classic Blondie. But we do get to hear the sumptuous disco beats of Long Time, My Monster – written by Johnny Marr and, opening the encore, the lengthy Fragments.

46 years on it’s clear Blondie are not ‘past it’. There’s certainly moments when Harry’s voice falters a little, when she’s possibly glad of the rest provided by an extended guitar solo or the opportunity for the crowd to take over singing duties. Guitarists Tommy Kessler and Andee Blacksugar certainly kick out some superb but at times over long guitar riffs whilst being the most active band members on stage. Together with Matt Katz-Bohen on keyboards and the bass of Glenn Matlock, who really does stay in the background despite his status as one of punks pioneers, Blondie bring an electric atmosphere to this cavernous venue. But when all’s said and done it’s the charisma of Debbie Harry and Clem Burke, the two original members who hold your attention throughout the evening.

Heart of Glass ends the main set and receives an ecstatic response from the audience. Blondie return to perform Fragments, possibly not the best choice for an encore. It’s not particularly well known and at almost seven minutes long it’s hard to not let your mind drift. But the final two, Call Me and One Way Or Another are perfect closers, allowing the crowd to sing, dance, shout their appreciation and leave the venue on a high that’s likely to last for a long time to come.

Finally, a big shout out to Mick, First Direct Arena employee, who went above and beyond his duties to make sure I could stay and review the show and not find myself in my car on the way home after just three songs armed with a handful of photographs. If you’re reading this Mick, huge thanks.



Philip Goddard

Back to top