BOSTON -- Blondie are back. But, as those car commercials say, this isn't your father's Blondie. This isn't even your estranged punk cousin's Blondie.
The band that showed up at the Orpheum Theatre Saturday, on the first weekend of its first North American tour in 16 years, was your '90s Blondie: a little older, wiser and toned down, but still ready to showcase more than two decades' worth of music.
Singer Deborah Harry is still a platinum blonde, yet she seemed uncomfortable in her skin-tight sweater and leather skirt. Unlike the stars her lightning locks inspired -- Madonna, No Doubt's Gwen Stefani, Hole's Courtney Love, et al. -- Harry's no longer an alt-rock sex symbol. At times, the 53-year-old siren looked like somebody's crazy mom, with her hands waving frantically and her hips swaying to no particular rhythm.
Her vocals, however -- along with some tight musicianship from the band -- kept the electrified, sold-out crowd of 1,800 standing and cheering for the entire 90-minute show, which mixed hits going back two decades with songs from the band's 1999 comeback album, No Exit.
"I saw them in New York in 1982, and they were even better now," said Paul McHugh, 47, who brought his daughter Meghan, 14, to the show. "We're all a bit older now, but the energy's just the same. I wanted my daughter to see where bands like Hole got their ideas from."
"Blondie's definitely not Hole," Meghan McHugh retorted. "But they're still really cool."
The band -- Harry, guitarist Chris Stein, keyboardist Jimmy Destri and drummer Clem Burke from the classic Blondie lineup, augmented by guitarist Paul Carbonara and ex-Patti Smith bassist Leigh Foxx -- opened the 90-minute set with the '70s nuggets "Dreaming" and "Hanging on the Telephone."
Burke and Stein, in particular, made it clear they haven't lost a beat -- in their musicianship anyway. And Harry's voice, often strained on the solo albums she released during Blondie's hiatus, was surprisingly clear. Her high notes were definitely high, and her low notes, such as the "oooh, oooh" chorus during "Heart of Glass" (RealAudio excerpt), flowed smoothly.
The setlist followed suit. Concentrating on the '70s songs that made Blondie a household name, the band crashed through the likes of "Atomic" and "Sunday Girl." The latter song was stitched together with "In the Flesh" and the No Exit track "Boom Boom in the Zoom Zoom Room" for a mid-set "retro" jam that gave Stein and Destri a chance to strut their chops.
The set also showed off Blondie's ability to jump genres. No Exit's "Screaming Skin" blended the ominous stomp of a B-movie horror track with a bounce of Specials-esque ska. The Parallel Lines (1978) track "Sunday Girl" lived up to its '50s boy-band sound, and "Maria" (RealAudio excerpt), the hit from No Exit, stuck close to Blondie's new-wave pop formula. The reggae cover "The Tide Is High" was as summer-y as ever, and "One Way or Another" showcased the band's punk roots.
The band's age occasionally showed. Burke, 43, attempted to scale his drum set during "In the Flesh," but came dangerously close to tumbling down. And the whole band seemed enervated during "Call Me" (RealAudio excerpt), Blondie's anthem from the 1980 movie "American Gigolo," though the audience tried to compensate by shouting the chorus.
The band recharged for "Rapture," spiked with Harry's rap bit midway through the song. The crowd rapped along, too, perhaps hoping for a surprise appearance from Fab 5 Freddy.
Blondie performed in front of a makeshift, graffiti-adorned wall, upon which images of Harry's left eye and a digital time clock stopped at "00:15:00:00," were intermittently projected. The ironic meaning of the latter couldn't have been clearer. The band has long-since transcended Andy Warhol's famous maxim that everyone gets to be famous for 15 minutes, and it's now apparent the group is prepared to keep its fame going indefinitely. During "Call Me," Harry switched the line "Roll me in designer sheets" to "Dress me in the fashions of the 1990s."
The fans appeared ready to grant such wishes. Their arm-swaying during "Rapture" was reminiscent of a Queen video, and when Harry rushed to the mic to begin "Hanging on the Telephone," a small mosh pit developed. A few Zippos burned during "In the Flesh," and the entire audience erupted for the encore performance of "Heart of Glass."