GIG REVIEW – BLONDIE – HAMMERSMITH ODEON

Blondie and Television at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, May 1977

Blondie’s Debbie Harry frantically shimmies and shakes across the stage limelight, furiously rattling a pair of shiny maracas, and I sigh sadly, wishing they were mine.

You look good in black – fashion notes are an off-the-creamy-shoulder mini-dress, night nurse tights and stiletto leather ankle boots from which project the silk clad sparrow legs of the type of non-stop-dancing NOO Yawk City bud that Tom Wolfe eulogised in the Peppermint Lounge Revisited section of his Kandy-Kolored-Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.

The World’s Greatest Mouth cries “SURF’S UP!” at the start of Blondie’s celebration of Summer, “In The Sun”, a number that’s the equal of the type Golden Old’un that Brian Wilson used to knock out on a lazy afternoon with his piano parked in the sand box.

That song’s typical – a joyous, updated synthesis of Beach Boys, Spector, Orlons, Daytonas, early Motown, the very creme de la creme of the most timeless American Graffiti pop-pulp that ever poured out of a cruising car’s radio.

Debbie Harry – May 1977

It’s exhilarating Amerikana, and even though the furthest West I’ve ever been is Ealing Broadway, I could almost taste the back-seat-drive-in love and the ketchup-soaked cheeseburgers sizzling on an open grill.

Debbie looks like a peroxided 16-year-old pony-tailed cheerleader who got a job turning tricks on Times Square during the vacation. The angelic countenance, absorbed in her speeding-sideways dance steps, turns vicious as her painted nails claw the air for the Patti Smith-inspired “Rip Her To Shreds”.

Her Mop Top Muppet band ploughed through “Get Off Of My Cloud” on Saturday and “Louie Louie” the next night for the intro to the opening track on their Private Stock album “X Offender”, a child-like paean to a perverted cop who’s into rubber boots, if you see what I mean. It’s the tragic story of a jailed man and the girl who waits for him.

The notion that the band should stick to small clubs and avoid the larger halls is smashed as the descendant of every enigma from Monroe to Piaf to Ronnie Spector gets bathed in blue lucid spotlight for “Look Good In Blue” done soft and sultry. West Side Story derivative finger-snapping choreography with Debbie torching it into the footlights with Doomed Lover angst.

“For Iggy!” Debbie cries and they rip through their tribute to The Pop, “Detroit”.

“In The Flesh” was only performed on the Sunday, which was bad strategy as they should do it every night. Not a dry eye in the house as Debbie purrs, murmers and sighs.

It’s Blondie’s newest single and it would mean a lot to me if you all go out and buy it.

I bite my toenails in anguish as “Man Overboard” is followed by “Rifle Range”, with Debbie getting gunned-down and dying the Bogart flat on her back and twitching with the throes of Sudden Death.

But when she bounces back for “I Didn’t Have The Nerve To Say No (Dear)”, a sort of porno “God Only Knows”, I know that everything’s gonna be alright.

The band leave the stage (sulky bastards, her musicians; not the type of boys Debbie should mix with at all), then get brought back for two numbers that display real fire – killer versions of “Heatwave” by Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and The Daytonas’ “Little GTO”.

The difference between Blondie and Television was the difference between hanging around an amusement arcade and going to church. Honest, I think that the Marquee Moon album is great. But the two weekend gigs that Tom Verlaine’s Television played at Hammersmith Odeon were like sitting at the Maharishi’s feet or gazing respectfully at the Crown Jewels – or watching Pink Floyd if they had any good songs.

“Prove It, Tommy boy!” an irreverent prole bawled, and I assumed he was talking about the album track of the same name. But when the song had come and gone and he continued shouting, “Prove it, Tommy boy!” I realised he was challenging Verlaine to live up to the hyperbole of his build-up.

On the album, Verlaine’s frighteningly intense music carries some warmth, passion and SOUL. There was a paucity of all those qualities during these two gigs. it was cold, heartless and joyless, and they played with the technical perfection of a sophisticated computer. When they started with the first tracks on the album, “See No Evil” and “Venus”, I thought they were gonna run straight through the album because they didn’t have the energy to change the tracklisting around.

When a man as talented as Verlaine can write something like “Venus”, perhaps the finest love song since Dylan’s “Love Minus Zero”, there’s just no excuse for playing with as much sexuality, love or affection as a necrophiliac.

Between numbers, Verlaine savours the role of distant, cool, patronising Star. Unsmiling, unmoving throughout, he introduces each song in a short slur of words, all indistinguishable except for the title.

Meanwhile, everybody’s sitting round watching Television. It made me think that the Television / Blondie tour and The Ramones / Talking Heads tour should swap support acts for everyone’s benefit.

While not in the same league as songs on the album like “Friction” or “Prove It”, the old Ork single “Little Johnny Jewel” got the best reception simply because it’s certainly the most esoteric number the band do.

“Marquee Moon” alone comes across as visually impressive as it is on vinyl, with guitarist Richard Lloyd and Verlaine cutting jagged, incisive structures through the air as TV’s transparent axe reflected beams of coloured light that looked like the music FELT.

On that occasion the music touched me inside. The rest of the time it was how I imagine a Grateful Dead concert to be.

“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is dire, and it’s not until the encore of “Satisfaction” that the audience stand up from their chairs and Idiot Dance.

“WALLY!” somebody has the amusing and appropriate audacity to bellow, and then the bouncers start playing Gestapo Warriors and it ain’t funny.

As the fishboards leave the stage I reflect that Television may have 10 times the talent of Blondie, but they ain’t half as much fun, I think I’m in love.

(NME, June 1977)

Ah, the Watusi. Freckle fickle girls always used to do it in those implausible discos found only on sets of long running American TV series like Peyton Place and carefree college movies.

Sandra Dee used to be Watusi, Deborah Harry does now. So she wears black hot pants and black stockings and sings in a band. but she still bears all the hallmarks of a thoroughbred mid-sixties all American blonde.

Dagwood would be proud of Blondie. They’re a pop-at-the hop band and only in that context do they become acceptable. At the Hammersmith Odeon on Saturday a week of tough UK touring had so obviously peeled off the gloss.

When I saw them in Glasgow on their opening night Blondie were embarrassing and clumsy. Too much, Too soon. But six days, six rays of hope. Fey at first but now almost assured a long run. Only almost though.

The world may not be ready for a Watusi wake.

Ice skaters at the gates of dawn Television needed the Verlaine rink of confidence. They had more than their fair share of barracking by the Hammersmith back-room boys throughout their set which, with its myriad of painful pauses is particularly susceptible to the turkeys.

Television don’t actually DO anything on stage – but play. There’s an effective frozen light show sure but for the most part the band are immobile, letting the music do the work.

Verlaine and Richard Lloyd (sadly and unfairly smothered by TV’s booming black shadow) together weave a complex pattern of chords on the fine cloth provided by Smith and Ficca. Tortuously efficient. dead eyes in midnight alley ways.

Television are the most important. And at Hammersmith they showed why. A malady in these highly charged Brands Hatch days. (Record Mirror, June 1977)

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