Merriweather Post Pavilion presented flip sides of rock's new wave last night with Blondie's kinetic, futuristic pop and Rock Pile's rhythmically dense evocation of rock 'n' roll's past. Rock Pile's stage show provides a twin focus with two of rock's leading cult stars, '50s guitar classicist Dave Edmunds and pop satirist Nick Lowe.
Unfortunately neither Lowe nor Edmunds has much of a vocal or stage personality. Even their best songs, like Edmunds' "I Knew the Bride," depended on the power of Terry Williams' crack drumming and lots of Chuck Berry drive guitar work to gain momentum. Despite the undramatic nature of the band's act, Emdunds' and Lowe's sense of rock history is spirited and unerring enough to keep the fun slightly removed from nostalgia.
Blondie would have looked and sounded better than Rock Pile even without their sultry blond and lead singer Debbie Harry. Of course, Harry's pale beauty has provided the band's focus from the beginning and her coy physical and vocal poses made more than a few hearts throb last night.
If Harry's breathy, uninflected vocal style lacks real passion, it is really just one fascinating element that Blondie has molded into one of the most creative, and sometimes kitschy, rock syntheses around. The controlled and colorful instrumental fills of Chris Stein's guitar and Jimmy Destri's organ played central parts in creating the quirky and colorful mix of '60s punk and pop styles that makes Blondie's sound unique.
Blondie is not the most powerful or inspirational new wave rock group. However, by the time they played a slightly harder rocking version of their smash disco hit, "Heart of Glass," the crowd was starting to rise. When the band let loose on their last number, "One Way or Another" and Harry turned in her best bits of dramatic choreography, the crowd was on its feet screaming for an encore.