Cincinnati, Ohio • February 13, 2009
She’s special. She’s gotta have some of our attention. That’s what she told us thirty years ago and now — at 57 — Chrissie Hynde is still seeking the limelight, but only on her own terms.
Joined by the only other surviving original Pretender, drummer Martin Chambers, and a new lineup of talented musicians, Hynde took the stage at Cincinnati’s Taft Theatre wearing a coat with tails, jeans, and boots. I’m assuming the boots were made of Chinese plastic but at any rate, that was the first tune (“Boots of Chinese Plastic”) the band kicked into from the latest Pretenders disc Break Up the Concrete.
As they did so, my fiancée turned to me and said “I think I have a girl crush.” It was easy to see why. Hynde is still all about the rock and roll attitude, still looks great slinging a Telecaster and still sounds much as she did in 1980.
She remains a classy rock and roll queen too, though at times Hynde can be a bit, well, prickly. An early altercation with fans trying to take her picture threatened to derail the evening. She at times during the show referred to herself as “neurotic as hell” and “more and more cantankerous.”
Fortunately Hynde and the band engendered enough good will playing great music as the night wore on that the crowd stuck with her and forgave the angry outburst of camera shyness.
A bout of what Hynde called “bus flu” that spread through the band had forced them to cancel a show in Indianapolis just two days earlier but everyone seemed healthy enough for this show in Hynde’s home state.
Making an early appearance in the set were two classics from 1981’s Pretenders II, “Talk of the Town” and “Message of Love.” New guitarist James Walbourne (Pernice Brothers, Peter Bruntnell) and bassist Nick Wilkinson did a stellar job of essaying the parts made famous by the late James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon.
Also on board for this tour is the excellent pedal steel player Eric Heywood (Son Volt, Richard Buckner, Alejandro Escovedo), who provided the country tinge to Concrete’s “Love’s A Mystery” and “The Last Ride.”
Walbourne’s axe skills were showcased to good effect on the blues-rocker “Rosalee,” another tune from Concrete that was written by Robert Kidney, who fronted a combo called The Numbers Band in which Hynde’s brother Terry played sax. Got all that? Whew!
Walbourne was also smoking on the rockabilly-flavored “Thumbelina,” from 1984’s “Learning to Crawl” and the twin set-closing Bo Diddley homages “Cuban Slide” and “Break Up the Concrete,” which found Hynde roaming the stage with maracas in hand.
But it is the first Pretenders album from 1980 that remains a popular touchstone for Hynde and this latest incarnation of the band. “Brass in Pocket” was of course on the set list. She is still special, after all. The Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing” also got a work out. The highlight though may have been a first encore that included “Kid” and “Precious.”
Perhaps my favorite moment of the show however occurred after a terrific, chiming version of 1984’s “Back on the Chain Gang.” Someone in the audience shouted “I saw you with Iggy Pop.” “What were we doing?” Hynde asked. When the fan responded with something about a concert, Hynde came back quickly with “You missed the best part! Oh come on, it’s Iggy Pop. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t if you could.”
That response, and a stellar evening of music, seemed to sum up why so many still love this neurotic, cantankerous rocker nearly three decades after we first learned how special she is.
The Pretenders: www.thepretenders.com