Bootleg Blondie Remain Unparalleled With a Little Help from Clem Burke

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With a generation-spanning crowd packing out the room, a discography to rival to most legendary of artists and a reputation as one of the best tribute acts in the world, Bootleg Blondie seemingly have all the ingredients to serve up a perfect set of masterful mimicry. What’s more, the people are expecting nothing less. 

Thankfully, as the opening riff from the 1978 classic ‘Hanging on the Telephone’ rings out, it’s guaranteed that one way or another, we are all in for a good time. Emerging from behind a life-sized cut-out of a red phone box, doppelgänger Debbie Harris bellows into her clenched fist (with thumb and pinkie finger extended, of course) with all the camp and theatricality you’d want from the ersatz queen of punk. Fun and silliness are clearly the orders of the day as Harris constantly zips backstage for never-ending costume changes: the ‘Heart of Glass’ asymmetrical neckline; the risqué vultures t-shirt dress; and limitless variations on the iconic peroxide ‘do. 

‘Burke’s joy is evident as he breathes new life into the hidden gems that often don’t make the cut in the real Blondie’s live shows

But it was certainly Clem Burke, one of founding members of the band and arguably the most underrated drummer of all time, who was the main draw for the die-hard Blondie fans. Effortlessly powering through a thirty song set, Burke thrashed and walloped with the vigour of a man in his prime, as if the New Wave zenith never truly ended. Those who guess that playing the same back catalogue of hits for forty years would make even the most passionate of musicians weary would struggle to find any proof here. 

Perhaps, those same naysayers would also claim that playing in a tribute of your own band is a calamitous fall from grace. However, Burke’s joy is evident as he breathes new life into the hidden gems that often don’t make the cut in the real Blondie’s live shows, from the ethereally brooding ‘Picture This’ to peppy 60s-tinged ‘X Offender’. 

Nevertheless, as expected, the relentlessness of the hit singles is what propels the show forward. As ‘Sunday Girl’ moves to ‘Dreaming’ and ‘Maria’ is followed by ‘Atomic’, it’s almost unbelievable to think that one band has such a varied yet stellar musical output; by the time ‘Call Me’ rolls around to close the show, the awe in the room is palpable. Who needs the cigar when you’re this close to the real thing?

Alex Gibbon