thu 17/10/2019

Blondie, Kew Gardens | reviews, news & interviews

Blondie, Kew Gardens

Blondie, Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens outdoor gig lacked rock'n'roll flavour but ended with pop thrills

Kew the Music - the umbrella name for a series of outdoor concerts - did not look promising upon first arrival and, indeed, for quite some time afterwards. It was clear as soon as I walked through the gates that this was a day out for monied London, not the usual gig environment. Before the stage, in front of Kew Gardens' Victorian Temperate House, a large section of grass had been sealed off for those with pre-booked picnicking space and everywhere about people sat with hampers swigging half bottles of Veuve Clicquot and using cocktail sticks to pluck exotic varities of marinated olives from tupperware.

Many couples were wearing candy-striped flip-collared shirts with pastel cardigans draped about their shoulders. These were surely the denizens of Richmond, of Knightsbridge, Chelsea and even Sloane Square itself. To add to my unfortunate prejudices the opening act was a low rent Michael Bublé sort called Joe Stilgoe who, grey-suited, with a red hanky protruding from his breast pocket, was attempting to interest the munching mass before him in an insipid cover of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies". It was the very antithesis of the Amazonian superstar's own explosive version at Glastonbury a fortnight ago.

Next on were The Magnets, a six-person a cappella "man band" who were very charming, precision-rehearsed and entertaining but absolutely not my thing. They appealed to the Kew crew, though, with their Manhattan Transfer takes on Blur's "Boys and Girls", the Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love" and a crowd sing-along to Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer". By far the highlight of their set was the beat-boxing of Magnet Andy Frost who took over for a bit with a selection of technoid beats and synth noises, raising the pitch briefly before it all settled back into Sunday Night at the London Palladium showbiz again. To be fair, they catered efficiently for an audience who desired leave of their super-safe comfort zone like a polar bear wants global warming.

I'd all but given up on the evening by now. Looking around at the mass of marquees selling wine and cocktails, the scrubbed pink faces of the wax-jacket brigade, and the giant ads on the stage-side screens advertising Moët & Chandon and upmarket estate agents, it felt like all the good stuff in pop and rock had been defeated. Then Blondie came on and saved the evening, bless 'em. Debbie Harry was wearing what appeared to be a caped mini-dress, of which more later, and sparkly Raybans, and the band kicked into "Union City Blue" followed by "Dreaming", "Call Me" and "Atomic", the latter with an extended psychedelic intro. Then original Blondie members and ex-partners Chris Stein and Debbie Harry stood side by side and let guitarist Paul Carbonara solo. They looked like the New York royalty they are. The whole band looks great. Stein has that stern-faced, curtain-haired John Cale thing going on and wears his shades permanently, and the only other original member, Clem Burke, who was, let us not forget, once a Ramone, looks much as he did in the band's heyday rather than 56 years old. Unusually for such a set-up the newer members only add to the visual appeal. Keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen is the spitting image of Noel Fielding in The Mighty Boosh, Carbonara in his white strides and striped top looks like Al Jardine from The Beach Boys circa 1962, and bassist Leigh Foxx has the demeanour of a man who's dropped in straight from a mid-Seventies Faces gig.

'The opening throws down a gauntlet that says Blondie have memorable hits to spare'

If the opening throws down a gauntlet that says Blondie have memorable hits to spare in a way that bands such as Razorlight, The Strokes and The Libertines can only wet dream about, the middle section of the set is mostly material from Blondie's new album Panic of Girls. From this evidence there are some strong numbers on there, such as "D-Day", and it's all greeted warmly by the crowd. The biggest whoop, however, is reserved for the moment when Harry takes off the cape part of her outfit to reveal she's wearing a shorts'n'T-shirt combo which, topped off with her wild white witch wig, cuts quite a dash. She even takes off her shades and starts to really smile, telling us that a Warhol portrait of her recently sold for a lot of money but that she didn't see any of it.

They perform an appealing and unexpected Latin number and then it's into the final golden run of "Sunday Girl" and a delicious extended version of "Rapture", the first non-hip-hop song ever to contain a rap back in 1980, which tails out by seguing into a cover of the Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your Right (to Party)". They encore with another cover, a hearty joyous take on The Beatles' "Please Please Me", and conclude with "Heart of Glass" which climaxes with a sky full of fireworks. Then we all pack up our shooting sticks and head for our Bentleys.

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