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Postcards from History: Blondie and Cheap Trick at Pier Six Pavilion, Aug. 29

August 31, 2010

Blondie (not a current photo)

“Oh, yeah, I remember this place,” Debbie Harry told the Pier Six audience Sunday night. “Right over there on the waterfront is where we had the wrap party for that film I made with John Waters and Divine. I got the worst mosquito bites of my life.”

It was a night for memories as Harry’s band Blondie shared a double bill with Cheap Trick. The biggest cheers were inevitably reserved for hits such as Blondie’s “Dreaming” and Cheap Trick’s “Dream Police.” And the cheers were deserved, for the hits were the catchiest, most confidently performed tunes of the night.

It was easy to confuse the two groups. Blondie had allowed its once sleek arrangements to grow blowsy with arena-rock guitar solos, a cheap trick if ever there were one. Meanwhile Cheap Trick’s golden-tressed lead singer Robin Zander deserved the name of Blondie more than Harry, a 65-year-old woman in a white wig and white tutu. Both acts tried to slip a few new songs into the setlist, but the crowd wasn’t interested.

Cheap Trick opened the evening, with three-fourths of the original line-up on stage: Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen, and 12-string bassist Tom Petersson. Zander was still skinny in a shiny black shirt and silver-studded black-leather pants, while Nielsen was still pasty-faced in a black baseball cap and thick-framed glasses. They preserved the myth that the nerd could become the best friend of the rock star. They played a hard-rock arrangement of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour,” as if to prove that the secret of their success really was combining the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. When they played “Surrender,” it still sounded like the perfect prototype for power pop.

Blondie boasted three-fifths of its original line-up: Harry, guitarist Chris Stein, and drummer Clem Burke. Stein ceded far too much ground to the bar-band overplaying of guitarist Tommy Kessler and keyboardist Matt Katz-Bohen, but Harry was still in terrific voice. She displayed power and control in all three gears: alto, soprano and her eerie, operatic falsetto. The latter was especially impressive on “Atomic” and “Rapture.”

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