With the inspired pairing of Blondie and Elvis Costello at the Santa Barbara Bowl last Wednesday night, the audience was treated to a slew of new-wave hits from both sides of the pond.
The evening kicked off with Blondie, featuring three original members — guitarist Chris Stein, drummer extraordinaire Clem Burke, and the iconic and still beautiful Debbie Harry on vocals — and filled in with longtime bassist Leigh Foxx, keyboard player Matt Katz-Bohen and "freak of nature" Tommy Kessler on guitar.
Blondie's music has aged well, thanks to an eclectic songbook and an underlying spirit of fun. First up was "One Way or Another," which had Harry wearing a sparkly gold bee mask in honor of their most recent album, 2017's Pollinator. Although it was still light out, this didn't put a damper on the band's performance as they ripped through other classics such as "Hanging On the Telephone," "The Tide Is High" (including a short clip of Deee-Lite's "Groove Is in the Heart") and their signature tune "Heart of Glass" (including a short clip of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love").
Other hits of yesteryear included "Call Me," during which videos from Glenn O'Brien's TV Party show played on the screen behind the band (who else spotted Klaus Nomi?), and "Rapture," which Harry introduced by saying, "Blondie is notorious for taking some chances over the years. We took a flying leap with this one." Trivia buffs know that "Rapture" was the first chart-topping song to feature rapping. In concert, the song had a cool extended solo from Stein. The band's newer songs were also well-received.
There was also some playfulness — blondes have more fun, right? — such as a cover of Lil Nas X's monster hit "Old Town Road" and an encore cover of "From Russia with Love" with the fake Russian-ized presidential seal that was recently in the news projected onscreen. Blondie's set closed with the Abba-esque "Dreaming," redemption for their visit two years ago when they weren't able to play it because of the Bowl's 10 p.m. curfew.
After a short break, it was Costello's turn, who started off strong with "Pump It Up," which was full of energy and could have been improved only by mixing the signature organ riff a bit higher. Costello was joined by the Imposters — longtime drummer Pete Thomas, Davey Faragher on bass and Steve Nieve on keyboards — plus background singers Kitten "Human Disco Ball" Kuroi and Briana Lee.
Costello's deep songbook was on display, focusing mostly on his earlier years with songs such as "Clubland," "Accidents Will Happen," "Green Shirt" and "Red Shoes." A highlight was "Watching the Detectives," for which the screens behind the band showed images of posters from old movies such as Act of Violence and Short Cut to Hell, plus the cover of a book curiously titled Murder Plays a Ukulele — Jake Shimabukuro, you've got to do something with that! Costello's guitar solo on this one was particularly inspired.
Costello showed that he still can crank out quality tunes with a pair of songs from his latest album, 2018's Look Now: "Photographs Can Lie," which was co-written with Burt Bacharach, and "Burnt Sugar Is So Bitter," which was co-written with Carole King. He also performed a piano number, "Face in the Crowd," for a yet-to-be-released stage musical of the same name.
The evening ended strong with "Everyday I Write the Book," the plaintive "Alison" and a rocking version of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding." Although Costello was a bit pitchy at times, he delivered the goods.
The biggest surprise of the evening was when Costello announced that Joni Mitchell was in the audience, which got a standing ovation. Hey, if the Lady of the Canyon — who knows a thing or 12 about great songs — made the trip, clearly the Blondie and Elvis Costello concert was the place to be.