Huntington, NY (October 5, 2022)—When Blondie first exploded out of New York City’s punk scene in the mid-1970s, the band quickly became known for its crafty pop hooks, high-energy shows and, of course, singer Debbie Harry’s supermodel-next-door image. Nearly 50 years and 40 million records later, however, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers have no interest in slowing down as they continue to hit the road every year, record new music and more. Clearly, Blondie is a band that knows the meaning of tenacity—heck, they have an entire hit song about the subject—and they needed a lot of it to get through their 2022 tour, one way or another.
Back in 2020, the band announced a Fall 2021 U.K. arena tour that was eventually bumped to April, 2022; in the process, the band added a string of May U.S. dates, too. Just prior to the U.K. run, however, founding guitarist Chris Stein announced he had to skip it due to heart issues and bassist Leigh Foxx likewise dropped out due to a back injury; guitarist Andee Blacksugar subsequently filled in for Stein, while bass duties were taken on by former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock. When it came time to play the States in May though, Matlock got tied up with work permit issues, and the U.S. leg was bumped again to August. No sooner did summer arrive, however, than Harry came down with Covid-19 on the last day of rehearsals, forcing the opening week’s warm-up dates to get rescheduled to the end of the run.
If the schedule was chaotic, FOH engineer Mark Newman, who’s worked with the band regularly for 19 years, and production manager Robert Nelson, a mainstay of the Blondie camp since 2013, helped provide some continuity to their concert sound. While the U.K. arena tour saw the band carry full live sound production with six trucks and a team of 30, the U.S. leg found the group sticking to one truck and a lean crew of 12. Using house systems and local “stacks and racks,” Nelson’s sound company, RJN Audio (Baltimore, MD), provided a control package centered around a Yamaha CL5 console at front of house and a QL5 desk in Monitorworld.
“Blondie uses about 44 inputs, and technology-wise, the Yamaha console has everything in it that I need,” said Newman. “I do have a couple of Premium Rack bits across the left and right to help warm it up and make it more analog.” Processing was all handled onboard with the Yamaha desks, in keeping with not only running light but the band’s live aesthetic as well. Nelson explained, “We’re keeping it simple, plus with Blondie, they want to keep it a little more raw-sounding; they’re not looking for a highly processed, polished sound. They want it to be a little garage-y, CBGB-ish—edgy and live sounding.”
That live vibe was readily evident throughout the final show of the tour—the second of two nights at The Paramount, a 1,550-capacity venue in Huntington, NY with a JBL VTX-centric house system designed and installed by Maryland Sound International. “We have eight A12s per side, which are zoned in pairs,” said The Paramount’s technical director, Mike Acampora. “Obviously they’re very loud, but they fill the venue; for the last year since we reopened, we’ve had the VTX Subs as well and these days, it’s a nice-sounding room.”
Having mixed to a sold-out house there the night before, Newman concurred: “This venue is awesome. We’ve played through a lot of JBL VTX on this run, a lot of L-Acoustics K2 rigs, occasionally d&b, of which I’m a big fan, but I’ve been really impressed with the JBL VTX rigs.”
Every band’s sound changes from night to night, and that turned out to particularly be the case with Harry’s vocal, as the tour alternated back and forth between using Shure Beta58 and KSM8 capsules on the singer’s wireless mic. Miking elsewhere onstage found the drums captured with a Beta52 and a 91 on the kick, a pair of 57s for top and bottom snare, and a number of Beta98s. Meanwhile, all guitars were heard via standard Shure 57s combined with Radial JDX48 DIs to facilitate blending for tones.
The unpredictable schedule meant that the monitor desk changed hands a few times; John Shipp tackled most of the tour but had to leave to mix FOH for Aerosmith, while Josh Duke, fresh off a run with Jason Bonham, jumped in for the last few shows. In between, the QL5 was manned by none other than Nelson, who used to wear both the monitor engineer and production manager hats for the band. “I did it for six years, and then Debbie thought my head was gonna explode,” he laughed. “The band got a lot bigger again and we kept playing bigger places; it got to be too much to do both.”
Regardless of who was behind the monitor console, the musicians heard their mixes via three Shure in-ear systems and a passel of RJN Audio’s Clair Brothers 1AM wedges, with two for Harry at centerstage while everyone else used a single floor monitor each, though drummer Clem Burke additionally had a Clair Brothers kiT-Sub+ 18-inch subwoofer.
With this year’s tumultuous tour now over, Blondie is already lining up shows for 2023, and though it will be two decades since he first took on the band’s live mix, Newman remembers getting that first availability call like it was yesterday.
“It was the craziest full-circle moment of my career,” he said. “I was at home and had just finished a stint with the Black Crowes. The production manager from that tour called me and said, ‘Hey, I’m now with Blondie and we’re looking for a front-of-house guy.’ I stood up from my chair, walked over to my stereo that was already on, and it was playing their Greatest Hits CD. I held the phone to the speaker for about 10 seconds and then I came back on and said, ‘You’ve called the right guy.’”