On a cynical level, it’s tempting to think of it as just another nostalgia tour: two more survivors of the New Wave era, clinging to each other for promotional strength in a world gone Spotify. But that’s not what this is. This co-headlining show by Elvis Costello & The Imposters and Blondie has an air of destiny about it—more so than most pairings of this kind, this feels like it was supposed to happen. And it’s not just because both acts are Rock and Roll Hall of Famers who found their footing around the same time—Blondie released its self-titled debut in December 1976, while Costello’s My Aim Is True bowed in February 1977—or because both singers changed their names (Blondie’s Deborah Harry was born Angela Trimble; Costello was Declan Patrick MacManus), or even because Costello released an LP called King of America in 1986 while Harry guested on a Thompson Twins track called “Queen of the USA” three years later. The links between the two artists go deeper than that.
Both bands tweaked their genre hard. Blondie famously interpolated rap (“Rapture”), reggae (“The Tide Is High”) and disco (“Call Me”) into its defining New Wave sound, while Costello and his collaborators took album-length detours into country (1981’s Almost Blue), classical (1993’s The Juliet Letters) and 1960s chamber pop (1998’s Painted From Memory, with Burt Bacharach). It’s also worth noting that Harry and Costello both dabbled extensively in jazz, usually with the same group: New York City-based ensemble The Jazz Passengers. (Costello and Harry even performed a charming duet on a Passengers track, a 1996 cover of “Don’cha Go ’Way Mad.”)
Both bands have influential hands. Costello and Harry have shifted back and forth between band and solo work many times, but they always seem to return to the same influential collaborators. Blondie drummer Clem Burke played with dozens of acts of the era, including the Romantics and Dramarama, while guitarist Chris Stein’s photographs of the early NYC punk scene pretty much encapsulate the entire era. Costello has Pete Thomas, a nonpareil session drummer and sometime member of Squeeze, and the great keyboardist Steve Nieve, generally the only member of Costello’s band who routinely follows him into solo projects.
Both singers love to collaborate with unexpected partners. Costello has worked with Paul McCartney, The Roots and Jenny Lewis, among many others; Harry with Underworld’s Karl Hyde, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic, and even The Gregory Brothers of Songify the News infamy.
Both singers doggedly fight for causes. Costello has donated time and money to saving the lives and homes of America’s aged jazz and blues musicians; Harry raises money for research into HIV/AIDS and endometriosis. And both have devoted their efforts to the fight against cancer.
Both acts continue to push forward. Blondie’s 2017 album Pollinator and Costello & The Imposters’ 2018 Look Now are the works of artists still invigorated by what they do. Sure, you can expect the hits at the Pearl—but you should also be prepared to stretch your comfort zone a bit. That’s why we coronated these two bands in the first place.
Elvis Costello & The Imposters and Blondie August 1, 8 p.m., $55-$226. The Pearl, 702-944-3200.