Deborah Harry Brings New Songs, Blondie Hits To Chestnut Cabaret

Posted: November 06, 1989

"I wanna be your number one," sang former heartthrob Deborah Harry from the stage of the Chestnut Cabaret on Saturday night. Ironically, that lyrical plea is from "Rapture," a No. 1 hit for Harry's band, Blondie, back on Valentine's Day of 1981.

But America's love affair with Blondie faded fast. The group's novelties - quick-pulsing backbeat synthesizers and pulse-pounding upfront sexuality - became standard features of '80s pop. So now, after the artistic and commercial fizzle of her first two solo albums, Harry is begging in earnest for our affection.

She deserves it.

Although the preprogrammed electronic rhythms of Blondie's big hits sounded little more than lovably hackneyed Saturday, Harry refused to let her past determine her future.

Just as "Rapture" and "The Tide Is High" once introduced rap and reggae to a whitewashed new-wave world, Harry's new music avoids current rhythm-and- blues trends to bring back blunt garage-rock.

On tunes from her new album, Def, Dumb and Blonde, Harry's five-piece band de-emphasized monotonous keyboard riffs in favor of the slam-bang assault of live drummer Jimmy Clark. Playing with the zeal of an aggressive toddler on a garbage-can lid, he inspired unexpected fire in Harry's famous ice-princess vocal delivery.

Tilting her head back and baring her famed snarly smile, Harry stomped to the beat and bit into songs including "Bike Boy" and a scream-injected ''Kiss It Better," with the intense air of a slightly demented Pearl Drops spokesmodel.

While less powerful, even two new slow numbers, "Lovelight" and "Brite Side," found Harry eschewing the canned chic of Blondie for a sincere emotional delivery. In those, and on the old hit "Dreamin'," her thin but smoke-edged vocals were remarkably similar to Michelle Pfeiffer's in The Fabulous Baker Boys.

The red-dressed Harry, in her impishly sequined skullcap with horns, also brings a welcome sexual sophistication back to the pop scene. In a field where scantily clad dance divas and squeaky-clean teens have come to the fore, it's nice to see the mysterious older woman once again.

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