Concert Review: The Stranglers and Blondie

Despite the passing years, Blondie can still get the crowd going.

Blondie 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Blondie 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Stranglers / Blondie Ra'anana Amphitheater July 3 Deborah Harry, bursting into our living rooms singing "Denis" in her strategically ripped red-and-white T-shirt, was every adolescent male's dream. But that was more than 30 years ago. By the time she made it to the Ra'anana Amphitheater last Thursday night, she was 63 years old, and she'd lost half of her band along the way. Indeed, two half-bands were rolling back the years - all 30 of them - at this concert. Yet both delivered reasonable arguments against going gentle into that good rock night. The Stranglers, who opened the show, have labored for almost two decades without former frontman Hugh Cornwell, and now also lack founding drummer Jet Black. Nonetheless, they're a revived force with guitarist-singer Baz Warne, though friendlier and far less sleazy and dangerous than in their late-'70s heyday. They played an hour or so's greatest hits package with real zest, evidently undeterred that the place was only gradually filling up. Warne had even bothered to learn some Hebrew - displaying a vocabulary that included not only the predictable "Todah" and "Shalom" but also the exuberant "Yala balagan!" Sexist, possibly even racist, and thoroughly unlovable when they emerged at the same time as punk, The Stranglers' advantage was that they were gifted musicians - Cornwell a blues veteran; bassist JJ Burnel a classical guitarist; keyboardist Dave Greenfield a genuine innovator - who wrote truly memorable songs. Thus, when punk and new wave had run their course, The Stranglers were able to make an improbable transition to purveyors of delicate pop numbers like "Golden Brown," "Strangle Little Girl" and "Always the Sun," all of which were given outings here. Greenfield's keyboards were so low in the mix as to be almost inaudible, but Burnel's seemingly effortless bass-playing was as consistently dazzling as ever, and Warne, quite unfazed to be mimicking Cornwell's vocals and many of his guitar solos note for note, added humor and a sense of enjoyment to the Stranglers' performance - qualities with which the young Men in Black were never associated. Blondie's current tour includes a run-through of the complete Parallel Lines album that made the band a household name 30 years ago. But when Harry made her very slow way to stage-front, in a tight black dress that did her few favors and atop apparently painful stilettos, one wondered if we'd all have been better off not reliving the glorious past. Yet the voice - sometimes seductive, sometimes empty, sometimes angry - was intact. And when she tossed those shoes into the audience a few numbers in, Harry looked a whole lot happier and her performance loosened up. The new band members, some of them young enough to be her kids, reinvigorated the old hits. Longtime partner Chris Stein, blessedly recovered from a life-threatening illness, now has to stretch past his paunch to his fretboard, but played with quiet dexterity, and original drummer Clem Burke was a whirl of frantic energy and high-flying sticks. In the later part of the set, the chart-toppers came thick and fast, and as Harry turned her black and white scarf into a bandana and glided about the stage, a fortyish woman to my right was heard to exclaim, "I hope I'm as groovy as she is when I'm in my 60s." By now an admirable mix of middle-aged nostalgists and young converts had packed the arena, dancing sweatily in the heat and singing along with the choruses. A couple of high-spirits even got carried away and rushed the stage. Plainly undeterred by the previous day's bulldozer terrorism, Harry said she'd toured the Old City and hoped to visit again soon. "Tel Aviv!" she declared loudly, and almost accurately, at one point in the proceedings. "Crazy country," she said later. Spot on there.