Bristol Observer, July 23, 2019
Former punksters Blondie, Elvis Costello
What happens to punk rockers 40-plus years after they recorded their first album.
For some of the army of disaffected musical youth of 1976-1979, the question is moot. Many have become an obituary. Think of, for example, Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols), Stiv Bators (The Dead Boys), and Richard Hell (Television). For some, they become a footnote in rock and roll history.
Think of… well, you don't think of them because many of these footnotes have been forgotten.
For the rare few, you become really good musicians always vying to be better artists and blaze your own trail. That has been the case of Blondie and Elvis Costello, who teamed up for a bang-up concert at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville on July 21.
Both bands upon their arrival on the music scene in the time of Jimmy Carter were filled with spit and vinegar as befitting the punk era.
Blondie, which found a home at the legendary CBGB with other groundbreaking bands such as the Ramones and Talking Heads, showed their guts by turning to beach music and girl groups for their inspiration. Keep in mind, at the time, some bands were suffering from a psychedelic hangover and other bands were trying to be the next Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. Elvis Costello, instead, was the angry young man that drew upon punk's "Up yours" attitude to fuel his repertoire. He was the guy willing to kick James Taylor's butt.
However, unlike some of their musical peers, both Blondie and Elvis Costello had other aspirations than shake a fist at the world.
Blondie always had the air of a New York art scene project. Its willingness to mine other musical genres — rap, disco, reggae, power pop, and the aforementioned beach music and girl groups could best be described as a musical collage. They had more on their mind than another hit single (although they had a few of those). They wanted to open the ears of the general public.
Costello on the other hand revealed through his music, about four albums into his career, that he wanted to be more than acerbic and rebellious. Like some of his fellow angry young men of the punk new wave era (Joe Jackson and Graham Parker), he wanted to be a singer songwriter. Eventually he worked with tunesmiths such as Paul McCartney, Burt Bacharach, and Carole King. He even tried his hand recording an entire album backed by a string quartet.
Punk and new wave may have provided a launching pad for Blondie and Costello but both bands refused to let those genres become their prison.
At the Mohegan, both acts showed subtle hints of their punk roots by refusing to become mere oldies stations on satellite radio.
Blondie dipped several times into its latest release, 2017's Pollinator even though the fans were clearly waiting for "Rapture" and "Heart of Glass."
Costello dove in and out of the deep tracks of his iconic albums. He also pulled out tracks from some lesser known, but still artistically intriguing, efforts.
Both acts also were interested in keeping their audiences on their toes. Thanks to the web, the setlists of many acts are available so fans can anticipate what they will hear at their particular show. Many bands will not vary from that list.
But, although there were some similarities night after night, both Blondie and Costello shake up what they play every night.
So you got some surprises.
Blondie pulled out the hook-filled and fun "Wipe Off My Sweat" from 2011's Panic of Girls.
Costello trotted out "The Look of Love" from his former writing partner Burt Bacharach. In their punk days playing with velocity and abandon was expected.
But with youthful spirit relegated to the past, both acts showed a superb command of musicianship. Blondie and Elvis Costello and the Imposters were tight and polished (which would have horrified the punksters of old). And both Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry and Elvis Costello showed their voices have not been diminished by the passing of time even if perhaps the keys have dipped a few tones lower.
Blondie and Elvis Costello and the Imposters proved at the Mohegan Sun Arena that even though the years have passed by, their talent has not faded in the least. They are artists still striving to keep that creative mojo flowing.
I give the evening of Blondie and Elvis Costello at the Mohegan Sun Arena on July 21 four out of four stars.
Tags: The Sex Pistols • Richard Hell • Television • Blondie • Mohegan Sun Arena • Uncasville • Talking Heads • James Taylor • Graham Parker • Paul McCartney • Burt Bacharach • Carole King • Heart Of Glass • The Look Of Love • Deborah Harry • The Imposters
Bristol Observer, July 23, 2019
Photo by Mike Chaiken.