Blondie and X at the 9:30 Club

New Wave and Post-Punk icons Blondie and X perform at the 9:30 Club in DC. Photo: Blondie

WASHINGTON, September 24, 2013 — When late ‘70s is punk rock is brought up in music conversations, the natural inclination is to immediately start focusing on British bands such as the Sex Pistols and the Clash, with, perhaps, the exception of the Ramones. Punk in the U.S. during that same was a bit different, although even that would change in less than a decade. The Yanks did not necessarily emulate the angsty aggression of their British counterparts then, choosing instead to serve as a counterpoint to the mainstream at that time.

Both Blondie and X represent different aspects of that music ideal in the American rock underground of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, albeit approaching it from different points of view.  Despite their differences, the combination of these two bands made perfect sense, as they balanced and supported each other during their recent show at the 9:30 Club.

Both bands reached their peak during the‘80s, and gaining mainstream recognition after each garnered an avid following in the late ‘70s. But they weren’t exactly contemporaries. This was still a time when, especially in the U.S., bands could easily be divided up geographically. 

Despite radio play, both bands were primarily anchored on separate coasts, a general situation that made for a fairly large division between the scenes that spawned both Blondie and X. Early on, both scenes, at least in the U.S., were identified as punk. But they morphed into something completely different than what’s traditionally thought of as punk today. And it is these developmental divisions that both these bands still exemplify today, a fact duly noted as they performed their material at the 9:30 Club.

What makes these shows, which are essentially nostalgia events, still relevant?  First and foremost, it’s easy to understand what makes them popular. Both Blondie and X, for example, created music that reached people at a certain point in their lives, and it’s clear that key songs from this era haven’t aged at all in the decades since they’ve been released. People will always want to hear those songs live because they enable them to go down the memory hole to recall vivid memories of those past, often formative times in their lives.

On the other hand, it’s not entirely fair to pigeonhole either one of these bands as nostalgia acts.  X was steadily releasing new music into the ’90s and Blondie has released several new albums in the last decade, including a new release set to come out later in the year. The strength of their current joint show hinges on what people remember from the time when both bands were at their most popular. That’s what really drives the show in terms of crowd energy.


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Neither Blondie nor X rely solely on their past laurels as the focal point of their show. But it’s obvious that both these bands are, to some extent, functioning as time capsules, not simply representing themselves or even a period in time where they might have ruled pop music, but also helping to recall the specific regions and music cultures where they were firmly entrenched.

If someone were to look for a quintessential L.A. punk bands that existed before hardcore took over the underground in the ‘80s, they would be hard pressed to find a better representative than X. The band formed in 1977 in the wake of the first-wave punk movement as it reached the West Coast. They released their first album, “Los Angeles,” in 1980, inaugurating a string of some of the most critically well-received punk albums over the next three years, including 1981’s “Wild Gift” and 1982’s “Under the Big Black Sun.”

While most punk bands at the time were known for their lack of musicianship or relative indifference, X went in the other direction entirely. They created punchy rock numbers but emphasized them with biting lyrics and fairly complex vocal harmonies carried by front woman Exene Cervenka and bassist John Doe.

Playing with their original line-up, all that original style and bite was still present during their set at the 9:30 Club. X were never the most typical punk band on the scene and eventually did grow beyond this. But even today, it’s clear to see why they were a cut above most of their West Coast peers, demonstrating precisely what a punk could achieve beyond mere manic aggression. The high quality of musicianship X displayed during their set here greatly underlines the timelessness of nearly all their material as well as the relevancy it holds some three decades after the fact.


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Blondie represents a similar level of artistic freedom and quality. But, having originated on the East Coast and especially in New York during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, they weren’t quite pigeonholed with the same insular stigma that the punk scene in general would eventually develop.

Early on in their career, Blondie was considered a part of the punk rock scene in New York – as it turns out though fairly briefly – for no other reason than they would frequent CBGBs, the same famous night club called home by those punk rock pioneers, the Ramones. This signified more of a cultural style that bound these bands together rather than any sort musical connection between them.

If there is anything that did connect these bands, it was their artistic freedom to explore differing musical avenues. Blondie eventually fell under the umbrella of New Wave. But in truth, this was really a catch-all term for bands like them that weren’t a clearly discernible style of rock music and that emphasized keyboards more often than not. Blondie, in fact, deployed several different musical styles, all while becoming a pop/rock juggernaut in the late ‘70s.

Of course, all of Blondie’s music extends from their lead singer Deborah Harry, who, even at 68, is still as electric as ever. It’s interesting to see how well the band’s new material fits in with many of their classic hits. But then, the their 9:30 Club audience didn’t necessarily come to hear songs off their upcoming album. Blondie certainly didn’t disappoint them, still able to demonstrate just how rousing songs like “Heart of Glass” and “Call Me” can still be, serving as a constant reminder as to why everyone was there to see them.

Timelessness and continued excellence. This is why both Blondie and X are still relevant in 2013, especially when seen and heard in a live setting.  The memorable songs that both bands crafted over thirty years ago have easily withstood the test of time. Enough in their respective catalogues remains emotionally poignant and still viable as dance rock numbers. For these reasons alone, people will always want to see bands like Blondie and X for as long as they’re willing to perform.

 


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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