Blondie Live at the House of Vans, Brooklyn

Catching Blondie live in New York is bucket-list level for a music fan; seeing her playing live in a skate park takes it to its zenith.

This mural by Shepherd Fairey sits across from the site of CBGBs on Bleecker and Bowery.

Blondie has always been the pretty young punk band that broke through to the mainstream the hardest and fastest from the gritty skid row dive bar, CBGBs. The band rose at the same time as Television, the Talking Heads and The Ramones, learning on the go, playing shows in a shitty, fetid bar that was off most New Yorkers’ radar due to its location on the Bowery.

What was once CBGBs is now Jon Varvatos’ flagship men’s fashion store.

Led by golden haired beauty, Debbie Harry and backed by the songwriting chops of her partner, Chris Stein and the thumping beats of Clem Burke, these three core members played unashamedly poppy tunes to often indifferent and hostile crowds. They were also one of the first bands to help define both new wave and to cross over disco and even rap into their tunes.

From the Bowery to Brooklyn

Luckily, we’re able to see them not just live in New York, but for free at the House of Vans. The HOV has been a successful venture by Vans the skate brand for almost ten years. It’s set up in a dirty old warehouse in the rapidly gentrified Greenpoint area, abutting Williamsburg. Beside a polluted waterway and looking straight across at the Empire State Building, the place has just enough edge to be cool and the fact that they give out 2000 free tickets for 900 places on the door means everyone’s always keen to be there and seen. This means lining up at least three hours in advance but there is compensation.

Once through the rusted roller doors and you’re inside a skatepark straight out of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater computer games or an uber cool 90s skate video.

Tonight there are no skaters, just a killer line up. And line up we do too. First you line up for the bathrooms – that three hour wait is a killer! Then you line up to collect a free gig shirt, then you line up for free beer and water – tonight it’s drink all you want Goose Island IPA – are we dreaming? The atmosphere in the back yard area feels like a music festival and Williamsburg’s music nerds and tragic hipsters are all eager to make it into the press shots.

We’re still struggling to get a grasp on the fact everything’s free. Even Liz Phair is playing for free. The early-mid 90s indie guitar queen delivers a rocking set of mid tempo tunes of fuzzy grunge-lite and her infectious smiles never leaves her extremely well-preserved face – it’s hard to believe she’s in her fifties! Why Can’t I and Supernova get the biggest cheers from the predominately 30 to 40-something crowd.

Finally about three hours and god-knows-how-many-Goose-Islands in, Blondie takes to the stage. The three core members are showing their age, apart from Clem Burke whose infectious smile makes him look 15 years younger than Chris and Debbie. The band is augmented by bass, guitar and synth and they are on point from the moment they hit the first strum of opener One Way or Another. From there, it’s a greatest hits package with Hanging on the Telephone, Call Me and Rapture (complete with a breakdown of the Beastie Boys – You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party). The only new addition is Fun, written by Charlie XCX.

Debbie’s cape reads: Stop Fucking the Planet

For a band that gone to hell and back over forty years, they still look and sound great. Debbie Harry is still as spicy as ever and in great voice and Blondie have someone managed to survive without never really going out of style.

WHAT THEY PLAYED

One Way or Another
Hanging on the Telephone
Fun
Call Me
Gravity
Rapture
You’ve Gotta Fight For Your Right to Party
The Tide is High
Long Time
Atomic
Heart of Glass

ENCORE
From Russia with Love
Dreaming

WHERE?

House of Vans Brooklyn

HOW?

House of Vans events are free but RSVPs usually go within a day or two, then you need to line up. The House closes for good September 2018.

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