Musikladen Live

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Woefully short and flimsily packaged, this is nevertheless an absolute treasure. Think of Blondie, after all, and chances are that you'll envision the cool, grace, and poise that dominated new wave from 1978-1980, unleashing the suave seduction of "Presence Dear," "Denis," "Hanging on the Telephone," "Heart of Glass," "Atomic" -- the greatest hits go on forever. Rewind a mere matter of months, however, and Blondie was a different proposition altogether, a just-this-side-of-ragged New York garage band fronted by what English journalist Charles Shaar Murray had just memorably described as "a cute little bundle of platinum hair with a voice like a squeaky bath toy."

Nobody ever tipped the band for stardom; indeed, Murray laid the facts on the line when he continued, "Debbie Harry will never be a star simply because she ain't good enough." And, catching the band either live or on TV in the months before their second album ripped every such expectation to shreds, you knew exactly what he meant. Originally available as an MPEG video CD, Musikladen Live resurrects Blondie's mid-1977 appearance on German TV's Musikladen, promoting their newly released debut album with 11 songs in 30 minutes and a no-frills performance that focuses as much attention on the stage set's plastic palm trees as on Harry's army fatigue shorts and t-shirt. The entire show, meanwhile, bristles with the winsome collision of clubland confidence and big-time nerves; in terms of potential audience, this was one of Blondie's biggest gigs yet, and the hesitant hop-skip-jump dance routine that keeps a visibly nervous Harry on the move is as symptomatic of her state of mind as it would, ultimately, become a trademark of sorts. The band, too, looks edgy, with the rough TV studio sound adding further rawness to what occasionally sounds like an unrehearsed mess. But the combination of all these factors, good and bad, is spellbinding, a glimpse at pop genius in its most formative phase and a chance to see one of the late decade's icons before she started playing to her own reputation. Plus, where else are you going to hear period live renditions of "Love at the Pier" and "Youth Nabbed As Sniper"?