I was in my element…and out of it. Not like “out of it” in the drunken or dementia type ways, I might clarify. I’ll explain. Of course I will, because this is a blog post on the internet and YOU WANT ANSWERS.

So’s I was back at the Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in the densely-woody Seattle suburb of (yes) Woodinville for the second time in two weeks, this time to see two of the big time acts of “New Wave, “ the B52s and Blondie. The show sold out, too – it’s a good and smart tour pair-up, those two.  Their pop sensibilities are coming from a lot of the same places: 60s dance rock, the heyday of the girl groups, and the Totino’s pizza slumber party with a Twister game on the floor and 45s stacked and ready to play, filtered through the quirky grit of the early days of punk. Both bands got famous around the same time, took time off to recover from serious illness (Blondie’s Chris Stein) or the shock of a death (original B52s guitarist and brother of singer Cindy, Ricky Wilson died at age 32), and then returned to tour and make more successful recordings.

I had never seen either band live, which does seem odd considering that I am right in that demographic and am a fan of fun. Sitting on my green plastic chair at the winery kind of reminded me why I did not, back all those years ago when they were first hitting big. Do you remember when doing “The Worm” was kind of a big thing with the pop-collared drunk college derfs? That dance where you writhe on the ground like you’ve been tasered? Those were the guys that co-opted the B52s and Blondie, the people who made “party” a verb:  Chad and Tad and Trey and Trip, their Docksiders, and lots and lots of stinky skunk beers in plastic cups, their elbows to my side and head, their vomit at my feet, and groping frat hands at my hoots. Piss off, Chad, and take your plaid Bermuda shorts with you back to Omega Chi Eat Shit.

Fast forward to 2010. Chad and Chip and Crap – whatEVer!  -- are all grown up and gray-haired, and have switched from keg beer to multiple bottles of Washington State wine, and have flipped their polo collars to “down.” Chad has a toupee that looks like a smashed Cocker Spaniel, and Chip and Crap are arguing over some huge woman in a camisole that barely covers her gravity-hammered knockers, causing a police officer to step in to settle them all down.  Oh, my concert-going peers. You are the same, and so am I.

(I’m sorry. Perhaps I am crabby. The a/c went out today here and it’s 95 degrees outside. Perhaps a cold beer would help. BRB.)

The thing is, both these bands were better than all that, and always deserved more than just the party pop designation. The B52s are a sharp damn band, and still sound indie-fresh. That is because they were rather ahead of their time. Their take on minimalism owed as much to art as pop. The supertight female harmonies, sometimes going into intentional dissonance, the snarky talk vocals of Fred Schneider, unconventional instrumentation (Japanese electronic toys, YAY!), the barbed wire guitar lines, backed by relentless precision drumming is interesting to examine. That, and the coolness of large and vivid retro wigs.

The B52s arrival onstage at 7PM sharp seemed to confuse many of our vino-swilling friends, who spent most of their set making it to seats, which the band could not help but comment upon from time to time, but not in a mean way. This band seems so nice, really. I can imagine talking blaxploitation films and vintage Mondrian dresses over iced coffee with them, and I am pretty sure if I asked for a Band-Aid, they would rustle one up for me. Here’s “Funplex” from their last new recording, released in 2008. There were many polices and securitiers about shutting cameras down, so please forgive my furtive movements. I do my best for you, because I love you so.

Here's a few photos -- more are here.

The crowd loved them, I loved them despite the crowd, and “Planet Claire” and “Rock Lobster” closed out their set for the encore. Here’s the former.

How many thousands of times do you think Chad and crew have called out “HEY! BLONDIE!” to Debbie Harry? Ah, well. Again,  they too are more of a band than perhaps given credit for sometimes. I was very skeptical when I first read about them mid- to late-ish ‘70s, thinking just-another-chick-singer-fronted-Nu-Wayve-band who wore their ‘60s influences on their sleeves. But as their career went along, they made some fairly brave choices in bringing in diverse elements into their work – island, rap, surf, Spector, synth, Euro disco – while keeping a very definite classic pop craft throughout.

As tough as it was with the crowd and the small camera, Debbie Harry was a total pleasure to shoot (more pix here). She is a born performer, beautiful, and just is completely sexy in everything she does. The camera loves that face: “It Factor.” Here’s 1999’s “Maria.”

Clem Burke still wants to be Keith Moon, which used to annoy me but he’s obviously devoted as hell.

Harry addressed the audience with Jersey-accented patter – friendly, calm, confident, with lots of big smiles. Here’s “Rapture.” I still think of the video for this song whenever I hear it, and still remember going, “What are they DOING?”

The security relaxed near the end of the show and a fair amount of people went towards the front of the stage at the encore to wave their arms and sing along. It was a good night, everyone was entertained, and I was glad to have been there.


As I walked back through the winery grounds to get to my car afterwards, I noticed a couple that must’ve been seventy if a day. Grandma Merlot was so trashed she was having issues remaining un-sideways, and was setting her giant white New Balance-shod feet down with such instability that I was afraid she was going to veer into me, singing “ROCK LOBSTER! DOWN! DOWN! DOWN!” I gave her wide berth.  Rock on, dearie, rock on.