Blondie, Advertising: St. George’s Hall, Blackburn

SWEET LITTLE Debbie Harry sure has come on in the world. Only 32 and already she’s got a single in the charts and the wish of a lifetime – opening her British tour in the town that let us know just how many holes it took to fill the Albert Hall.

The two times I’d seen Blondie before I’d been totally under-whelmed. Their Rainbow show was probably the drabbest, least inventive major concert of last year. At Blondie’s Dingwalls liggers’ special they played too loud and I was too drunk to register anything but pain.

This time, however, despite being sorely tested by the acoustics of this unheralded masterpiece of provincial municipal architecture, Blondie almost convinced, travelled way beyond their early image of looking to trade merely on the strength of Debbie’s tarnished angel life (or pose – call it what you will). She probably always meant it, always believed that she could rise above her five-fingered Mary dream status. But now she sounds as if she means it, as if she understands just how to triumph over the drools gazing up at her.

At least she did part of the time. When the white spotlight moved in on her alone and then let her dwindle into blue-tinged solitude on a crowded stage she looked like she could carry the whole band’s burden alone, proud and alone. And yet at other times she looked pitifully inadequate, still unable to resolve the self-constructed sex symbol of her image with the upfront lusts of her predominantly male audience. When she screamed “Fuck you” at the crowd (presumably as a response to something I didn’t hear), what else could she expect but a series of yelled replies, offering and pleading to take up her ‘offer’? If she really didn’t realise that’s what would happen she’s dumber than she could ever play at.

The set itself was uneven, pushing aside the wimpish overtones of their introduction by one of their roadies – “Stop gobbing…please. If you don’t, Debbie Harry ain’t gonna come on stage. They’re not that kinda band” – Blondie fair pulverised the audience and me into an overwhelmed TKO in the first 20 minutes – ‘X Offender’ with Debbie’s khaki smock blouse, black tie and Kung Fu posturing and t’ing, bunny hopping round the stage with more enthusiasm and style for ‘In the Sun’. Those first half dozen songs also were perfect, a testament to the possibilities of Blondie in particular and steel-driving hammer three minute songs in general.

And, and of course ‘Denis’. “This song…This is the one that got us on TV tonight…which can’t be bad, right?” Right. The gargantuan Spectoresque drumming tracks replaced by the well-meaning but out of time audience handclaps and footstomps, as far as pure enjoyment went, ‘Denis’ was obviously the evening’s main moment. Apart from anything else, there’s hardly any of their oh so predictable synthesiser on it. Unfortunately after that energy rush, Debbie and the band seemed to feel home and dry. Oozing self-confidence, they romped into the rest of the set. They played everything faster than on record but without anything near the same level of energy, clearly a case of more pace, less speed needed.

For the greater part of the second half of the set, only the melodrama, the lights, the one vision for a piece of the cake carried what was a fairly mediocre performance. I’d have sold it all for my one vision of Debbie slapping the audience’s palm, afraid to shake their outstretched hand in case…That was Debbie Harry – still hedging her bets after all these years.

And she is Blondie. The rest of the band, whatever their musical virtues, are faceless in the way only Americans can be – functional, awake, yet utterly inert. Which is why they can turn out so many magnificent pop rock’n’roll tracks and nearly carry them off on stage.

Support band Advertising face a similar quandary. Trying to play their very attractive brand of witty pop on stage will never be easy. Their kind of songs gain very little from live performance and their dynamics are suited to the careful thought of the studio not to the let it rip of the stage.

Not that they weren’t enjoyable. I – and a good section of the audience – probably enjoyed them more than the second half of Blondie’s show. In fact, Advertising are always enjoyable these days. Nobody seems capable of resisting the uncanny charms of Simon Boswell’s thoughtful pop songs. And despite Advertising’s still low-powered stage presence, they’re beginning to understand how to put out across the monitors and how to introduce some real rock’n’roll structure into their pop consciousness.

If only they’d stop harping on about young girls and all that pure pap for non people schoolgirl drivel, it’d be clear that they could be the first pop band to make you whistle while you sing. The consideration behind the sentiments of a song like ‘Lonely Guy’ certainly point that way. Who knows, if they live up to their strength they could beat out their songwriter hero Tony Hatch at his own game.

But, as yet, while Advertising sounded (very successfully) more lightweight than they are, Blondie carry themselves high, unphased on their occasional loss of momentum.

© Peter SilvertonSounds, 4 March 1978

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