Whether you first heard them when they were emerging as members of rock’s New Wave in the late 1970s, or decades later as representative classic artists of the 1980s, Elvis Costello and Blondie both occupy outsized positions in pop music history. Books have been written about how the musicians of the period 1977-1985 changed music forever, but it’s not necessary to read them — all you need to do is listen again to the immense wealth of enduring material that found its way to record stores and radio stations back when vinyl was still the only game in town. Or, even better, get to the Santa Barbara Bowl on Wednesday, August 7, when Costello and his group the Imposters will be joined by Blondie for the summer’s number-one throwback concert. Ask anyone who saw their contemporary David Byrne at the Bowl last summer — the music of this era has a lot more kick to it than just nostalgia, and both these outfits will deliver.
For Elvis Costello, who had to cancel partway through his last tour due to health concerns, this summer’s double bill with Blondie and another solo tour coming up this fall represent an opportunity to dig deep and hit the stage hard, which is by all reports exactly what he has been doing. Reviews of the early dates have Costello in top form and blazing through fast, loud sets that are typically around 90 minutes and 18 songs long. Expect him to begin by advising everyone to “Pump It Up” and to conclude with the immortal rhetorical question, “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?”
As for Blondie, they have been working toward this moment for a while, and from a recent conversation I had with drummer Clem Burke, it sounds like they are prepared to shred. Burke has been a cornerstone of the group’s success since day one, the propulsive engineer and athlete who drives their slinky, syncopated takes on a wide range of pop genres. Often cited as pioneers of both rap (“Rapture”) and disco (“Heart of Glass”), the musicians of Blondie belong to a sophisticated and canny crew who came of age on New York’s Bowery as part of the CBGB club scene.
According to Burke, one of the conditions of Blondie getting back together in the 1990s was that they “make new music,” and the results of that decision have been fortunate. “Maria” was a hit in 1999, and they have released three albums of new material in the 2010s. It’s a testament to the durability of their unique sound that frontwoman Debbie Harry can cowrite “Long Time” with Blood Orange and the group can cover Charli XCX on “Gravity” (both from 2017’s Pollinator LP) and still keep their identity. Set lists from early in the tour include “Old Town Road.” It seems Blondie are having a hot girl summer.
As the most commercially successful of the groups to come out of CBGB, Blondie has always been more pop than punk, even when Harry was on the cover of Punk magazine back in 1977. But that doesn’t mean they lack power, especially when it comes to the beat. Like Elvis Costello’s drummer Pete Thomas, Clem Burke belongs to a generation who drew on the strengths of such classic rock forerunners as The Who’s Keith Moon to create a sound that was so exciting everyone assumed it was totally new. In recent years, Burke has devoted some of his boundless energy to paying tribute to the great musicians who influenced him, as one can hear on “The Wrecking Crew,” an ode to the great studio band of that name that he recently recorded with the Santa Barbara–based group the Tearaways. In front of what promises to be an enthusiastic crowd, Burke is sure to do some wrecking of his own.
4•1•1 | Elvis Costello and Blondie co-headline Wednesday, August 7, at 6:30 p.m. at the Santa Barbara Bowl (1122 N. Milpas St.). See sbbowl.com.