Blondie and Billy Joel take centre stage

Photo: Jay Ouellet

Blondie's 69-year-old lead singer Debbie Harry struts her stuff, warming up the crowd for Billy Joel.

It couldn't have been a more perfect night for live music in the great outdoors. Tens of thousands of people had gathered at the Bell Stage on the Plains of Abraham to hear two of the 1980s' most iconic acts play for the first time in Quebec City.

Blondie's lead singer, Debbie Harry, looking ridiculously ravishing at 69 years of age, took to the stage in customary style with her skull-emblazoned dress teamed with blood-red cycling shorts, heavy black platform shoes and statement blonde bob. Blondie 4(0) Ever, the name of the band's new release, decorated the backdrop.

"We are Blondie and we are 40," she defiantly announced to the ocean of fans, many of whom weren't even alive when she was showing the world what new-wave punk-rock was and how women could shake the foundations of the music industry with a guitar and pair of stilettos.
The band took the crowd through all their classics, including "Heart of Glass," "Atomic" and "Rapture," demonstrating with good reason why they have been performing as a band for 40 years.

While children scarfed candy floss, teenagers dug their teeth into toffee apples and adults cracked open another Molson Dry, the legendary Billy Joel prepared for his grand stage entrance.

Grand it certainly was. As the piano-playing music star opened his performance, the stage was transformed. In a scene resembling a sci-fi movie, glittering skyscrapers morphed into whirling disco-balls. A band flanked the beaming, tuxedo-clad musician who was seated at his grand piano with water and a fly swatter as accessories.

"I've been doing this job for more than 50 years," Joel commented to the crowd, "and I've never even been to this frickin' city!" But if that was his oversight, he more than made up for it. The piano-pop maestro proceeded to take the crowds on a musical mystery tour covering all his classics including "She's always a Woman," "Uptown Girl" and the career-defining "Piano Man," which required little of Joel's input thanks to the collective vocal efforts of the audience.

Joel's set featured songs from other artists, including the Beatles' "Hard Day's Night" and even AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" - belted out by his roadie, a guy called "Chainsaw." As the night went on it became clear that the improbable combination of Blondie followed by Billy Joel was actually a stroke of programming genius.

We left, humming "River of Dreams," confident that the Festival d'Été is without a shadow of a doubt the jewel in the crown of Quebec City's summer.