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November 27, 2002

Blondie / Nov. 23, 2002 / New York (Roseland)

After scoring a No. 1 U.K. hit with "Maria" from its 1999 comeback album "No Exit," Blondie decided to revisit its past and release what many critics are calling its "definitive" "Greatest Hits" album earlier this year via Chrysalis. In the midst of a five-city mini-tour to promote the 19-song set, the legendary New York new-wave act returned home to a hero's welcome on Nov. 23 at the Big Apple's famed Roseland Ballroom.

After a short set by popular local garage punks the Realistics, Blondie hit the stage. Featuring original members Deborah Harry (vocals), Chris Stein (guitar), and Clem Burke (drums) plus newer recruits Kevin Topping (keyboards), Leigh Foxx (bass), and Paul Carbonara (guitar), the band delivered a rousing set of almost back-to-back hits, as well as new tunes from its forthcoming release (expected early in 2003) and a few fun, unexpected covers.

Dressed in basic black -- with Burke sporting a classic CBGB T-shirt -- the boys in the band set off Harry's glittery glamour dramatically. At a truly girlish 57, the vampy and voluptuous singer was an eyeful in her silver micro-mini, glitter shirt, fishnets, and sparkly ankle booties. She also sported a sports tank-top displaying the words "Starliners 77" -- perhaps a reference to the year the band's first album was released.

With Harry wielding her wireless mic with supreme confidence, the band launched the set with the infectious new power ballad "Diamond Bridge," then started cooking on the groovy ska of "Screaming Skin." The near-capacity crowd -- which ranged in age from 15 to 50 -- then went wild when they heard Burke's unmistakable drum roll intro to "Dreaming," perhaps the band's definitive power-pop single. Her short, sexy, platinum locks blowing, Harry had her Monroe moves, Dietrich daring, and own unique strut on full display. Indeed, the woman who paved the way for the Madonnas, Courtneys, and Gwens of the music world proved she still had stage presence to spare.

"Wow, it's nice to be home again," said the New Jersey native who has called New York home since the late '60s. The hit parade continued with "Hanging on the Telephone," "Sunday Girl," "Maria," and a slower, bluesier version of "Call Me." The band also revisited its campy, girl-group roots by performing more obscure early fare, including the drag-race-themed "Detroit 442" and the tabloid send-up "Rip Her to Shreds."

Topping showcased his keyboard prowess on the whirling, jerky breaks in "Accidents Never Happen," a beat-driven song that sent Burke's sticks into near orbit under the spacey yellow lights. Harry's vocals -- which have not merely held up, but improved in range and power -- were never sweeter than on the haunting "Shayla," the yearning "Union City Blue," or the charming reggae hit "The Tide Is High."

The band paid homage to fellow CBGB alum Television with a surprisingly accomplished cover of that band's "See No Evil." While Stein and Carbonara's guitar interplay couldn't quite live up to that of Television axemen Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine, Harry's impassioned, pleading vocals actually improved upon the latter's whiny yelps.

The night would not have been complete without a little Ramones, and "Havana Affair" was a fun choice. Taking a page out of the Queens boys' school of the absurd, Harry brought out a Frankenstein doll to introduce "One Way or Another," a still-gritty rocker that found her usually silky voice sporting a guttural growl, Burke pounding away maniacally, and Stein screeching out scales on his six-string. Harry then sent out a heartfelt "I love you" to the crowd and ended the main set.

The band's first encore featured "Rapture," the first true rap/rock hybrid, which soared to No. 1 on the Billboard pop singles chart long before Aerosmith had even heard of Run-D.M.C. Harry didn't miss a beat, rhyme, or robotic move, as she rapped about the "men from Mars eating cars" over Burke and Foxx's funk-fueled rhythms. "Heart of Glass" was a natural follow-up for the already dancing masses, who oohed, ahed, and swayed along with Harry as the song faded out.

After prolonged pleas and foot stomps (lighters were even raised) the hungry crowd was rewarded with a second encore, which featured the spacey "Fade Away and Radiate," performed amid blinding, psychedelic light flashes. The band then ended the show with another Ramones nod -- a raucous rendition of "Pet Cemetery," which Harry dedicated to "the dearly departed." The gothic anthem brought the volume and house lights way up, and ended with Burke pounding out its final beats while standing atop his drum kit.

While the song was a sad reminder of both Joey and Dee Dee Ramone's recent passings, hearing such a loud and loving tribute surely left both of them smiling down from punk rock heaven.

-- Cheryl Spielman, N.Y.


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