Someone once said they found Chrissie Hynde sexy because “She scares me” (and no, it wasn't this writer!). But there's nothing terrifying about la Hynde here. She's forthright and confident, but never daunting, leading her new band through a set that's based on debut solo album Stockholm, yet also pockmarked with Pretenders classics.
Blondie & Chrissie Hynde, Live in London
Venue: Roundhouse, London
The first ladies of pop-rock enjoy a night out at Camden's iTunes Festival
The hour-long performance is actually somewhat relaxed, albeit the band are tight and sharp. As the centre of attention, Hynde is a strident, lean, angular figure. And her voice is as strong and unmistakable now as it's ever been.
Of the new songs, it's You Or No One and Dark Sunglasses which stand out. They really do have the hallmark of what made the Hynde reputation in the first place, sounding like a hybrid of Springsteen, Elvis Costello and Foreigner. Inevitably, though, it's the selection of Pretenders classics which get the biggest response, with
Back On The Chain Gang, Don't Get Me Wrong and Brass In Pocket agitating everyone in a positive manner. And Hynde even finds time to sing happy birthday to someone in the audience. Friend or stranger? Who cares! Everyone ends up warming to Chrissie Hynde. She's become a friend to us for so long through her moving music.
Wearing shades and swathed in stripes, Debbie Harry might be a lot more, erm, mature these days as compared to her sex symbol days in the late 70s, but she still commands. The singer and the band gambol straight into One Way Or Another, setting off a sparking strut through most of the band's greatest hits, interspersed with lesser known tunes which actually prove the depth of their talent.
Inevitably, it's the likes of Hanging On The Telephone, Call Me and Maria which get us all singing along and living off the beat. But there are also some other impressive moments, in particular new song Euphoria, which is a Chili Peppers style funk-o-bazooka, yet delivered with a Blondie frisson. And they even briefly canter through (You've Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party) during Rapture.
The showstopper, though, starts with an extended version of The Tide Is High which turns into a glorious jam and ends with a virtuoso exercise from drummer Clem Burke, as he threatens to break into Rock & Roll. This leads organically into Deee-Lite's dancing whirl Groove Is In The Heart, before Atomic gives guitarist Tommy Kessler a chance to shine with a breathtaking solo that begins with a nod to Diamond Head's Am I Evil, then catapults into an orgasmic fretboard hallucination.
This is where the main set should have ended, with the entire crowd going mental, but instead the band carry on with rapping Sugar On The Side and Heart Of Glass. A fine couplet in its own right, it leads, though, to a slight dip in audience response after the high of what had just preceded.
But the encore again reaches for divinity. It begins with Union City Blues, before a jaw-dropping extract from War Pigs leads into War Child. This is brilliantly executed, and proves Blondie can be heavy as well as melodic. The pity is that you got the feeling most of the crowd hadn't a clue that they'd just witnessed a homage to Black Sabbath, as well as one of the bands most serious songs. After this, something frivolous like Sunday Girl or Denis would have been inappropriate, so Dreaming is a fine way to conclude.
Blondie remain one of the great power pop bands. But they've always been about more than throwaway party tunes. This is the sort of occasion that underlines their greatness.
A joyous night as part of the ongoing excellence that's celebrated by the iTunes Festival.