Blondie & The Damned Live in San Diego—The Punk Era Lives!

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Deborah Harry of Blondie in San Diego, 2022 (Photo by Thomas K. Arnold, used with permission)

For nearly two hours, it was 1982 again.

Blondie’s May 18, 2022 performance at Humphrey’s—a wonderful outdoor venue on San Diego’s Shelter Island overlooking a yacht basin—was a jubilant celebration of the hard-to-categorize band’s storied career, from its pop-punk beginnings in the late 1970s through its swift spread into a wide range of musical styles including reggae, rap and progressive/orchestral.

Front and center, as always, was the remarkable Deborah Harry, the peroxide blonde and former Playboy Bunny who a generation ago typified New York cool. Forty years later, she still pulls it off like an impish Dorian Gray, ageless, timeless and, six weeks before her 77th birthday, still—with apologies for sounding sexist—incredibly “hot.”

Blondie was part of the middle 1970s “punk” explosion that battled disco on one front and the Foreigner-Journey-Kansas contingent on the other. It was fresh, it was exciting, it was different—from the simplistic rock ’n’ roll of the Ramones to the artsy, funky Talking Heads. Blondie was on the vanguard of what would soon become known as “power pop,” delivering infectious tunes such as “X Offender,” “Sunday Girl,” “Hanging on the Telephone” and “One Way or Another,” all of which were performed with passion and aplomb at the group’s San Diego show.

In 1982, after six increasingly eclectic albums, Blondie broke up, only to reform after a 15-year hiatus for a second run of chart successes that include the hit singles “Maria” (1999, #1 in the U.K.); 2003’s “Good Boys”; and, most recently, “Fun,” which topped the U.S. dance chart in 2014.

Deborah Harry and Clem Burke of Blondie, San Diego 2022 (Photo by Thomas K. Arnold, used with permission)

Led by mainstays Harry and drummer Clem Burke, Blondie’s show was part of what the band called its “Against the Odds” tour of first the U.K. and then the U.S. The name certainly fit: The tour, originally scheduled for 2020, was postponed due to the pandemic. Then, guitarist Chris Stein, who had co-founded the band with Harry, had to bow out due to heart issues, replaced by Andee Blacksugar. And then bassist Leigh Foxx, too, stepped down due to a back injury. His replacement: Glen Matlock, the former bassist for the Sex Pistols.

Blondie opened the show with “X Offender,” from their 1976 debut album, against a backdrop of cartoonish renderings of the band’s name and members. As Harry delivered the song’s spoken-word intro, the screen flashed with a graphic of the New York skyline and the singer in the clutches of King Kong.

An easy segue into “Hanging on the Telephone,” from album number 3, Parallel Lines, had the crowd in what was supposed to be a seated show jumping up and spilling into the aisles. One fan held up a huge cardboard heart with “I Love You, Blondie” scrawled in Magic Marker.

Related: Our Album Rewind of Parallel Lines

From there, the hits kept coming—“Sunday Girl,” “Picture This,” “The Tide is High”—mixed in with album cuts such as “Fade Away and Radiate” and “Shayla.” Most of the songs came from Blondie’s initial period, although later in the show the band did play some of its later material, including “Maria,” from the 1999 “comeback” album No Exit; “What I Heard” from 2011’s Panic of Girls; and “My Monster,” from the group’s most recent album, 2017’s Pollinator.

Watch Blondie perform “Picture This”

A highlight was “Atomic,” an odd marriage between punk and electronic dance music that topped the U.K. singles charts in 1989 but only made it to #39 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was punctuated by an absolutely dazzling lead guitar solo by Tommy Kessler, who joined the band in 2010.

Blondie in San Diego 2022, with ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock on bass at far right (Photo by Thomas K. Arnold, used with permission)

For their closing number, Blondie performed a seven-minute-long rendition of “Heart of Glass,” during which Harry introduced the band members. The song ended with a brief instrumental version of the Sex Pistols anthem “God Save the Queen” as Harry walked off the stage.

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Watch the band perform “Heart of Glass”

The band returned for one encore, “One Way or Another,” inspired by Harry’s real-life experience with a stalker and what many consider the group’s signature song. But even after the lights came on, most of the audience members were still on their feet, shouting for more.

Opening the show for Blondie was British punk band Tte Damned, missing drummer Rat Scabies and guitarist Captain Sensible but still fronted by singer Dave Vanian, guitarist Brian James and bassist Paul Gray. The band played an energetic set that, if nothing else, served as a reminder of how many great bands came out of England on the heels of the Sex Pistols (The Damned’s first show was in 1976, opening for the Pistols).

Dave Vanian of the Damned, in San Diego 2022 (Photo by Thomas K. Arnold, used with permission)

The group played most of its most memorable songs, including “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” “Eloise” and “Love Song.” Vanian toned down the gothic look and persona he adopted after Captain Sensible’s 1980 departure and in many ways the Damned that played Humphrey’s was more in tune with the original power-punk group that emerged in London in 1976. Conspicuously absent was “I Just Can’t be Happy,” from 1979’s Machine Gun Etiquette LP and a moderate hit in the U.K., while a highlight was the group’s celebrated cover of Love’s “Alone Again, Or,” in which Vanian joked, “We need a trumpet.”

Watch the Damned perform their cover of Love’s “Alone Again Or in San Diego

As opener, The Damned didn’t get the chance to play an encore, despite the crowd’s insistence. But the pairing of the two bands was, to use a cliché, a match made in heaven: two fantastic bands that have been together for more than 40 years and yet still play with the vitality and vigor they exhibited when they were young—and when we were young.

Watch Blondie perform “One Way or Another” at the San Diego show

Tickets to the tour are available here and here.

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