Live Last Night: The Pretenders

Last year's "Break Up the Concrete" is only the second Pretenders album of the 21st century, and it's more country than New Wave, but Pretender-in-Chief Chrissie Hynde has plenty of confidence in it. At the band's sweaty, sold out 9:30 show Monday, six of the gig's first nine songs were from the new record.

(Read the rest after the jump.)

But more telling was the caliber of song Hynde -- the only constant in the 30-year-old outfit, though original drummer Martin Chambers was present, too -- nearly skipped over to get to the new stuff. She'd already given an enthusiastic introduction for "Rosalee," a new southwestern blues, when guitarist James Walbourne whispered to her that it wasn't next on the setlist. What was? Only "Back on the Chain Gang," the group's biggest U.S. hit. You know, one of the songs people had packed the club to hear.

Which isn't to say that the classics from the Pretenders' stellar first three albums circa 1980-84 that comprised more than half the 22-song set were at all perfunctory; or that the audience didn't warm to the new stuff. It's just that for the first hour at least, the new songs were where it was all happening. "Rosalee" was the first number on which Walbourne, a preternaturally gifted axe-man who could easily be the 57-year-old Hynde's son, let his guitar of its leash, showing he could do more than just expertly replicate the striated leads of influential founding guitarist James Honeyman-Scott. Walbourne would spend the night shifting effortlessly between the skinny-tie licks of the vintage cuts and Hynde's more recent rockabilly predilections with precision and style. A find, this guy. Even more surprising was how even the old songs benefitted from the presence of Eric Heywood's pedal steel.

But the real news was Hynde herself, the commanding, enigmatic tough-chick whose lush contralto hasn't aged five minutes since 1980. She's frequently proven herself a sensitive ballad singer, but that Hynde stayed home tonight, sending the wry, randy punk in her place. "I'll have anyone who'll have me," she announced to the audience at one point, as several hands instantly shot up.

She dedicated "My Baby" to Honeyman-Scott and original bassist Pete Farndon, the half of the original band that O.D.-ed in the early 80s, forcing Hynde to rebuild the group for the first of many times. But you wouldn't call anything about the show sentimental, especially not the closing stretch that included their most aggressive early album cuts: "Tattooed Love Boys," "Precious," "The Wait," "Up the Neck." All sounded tough and vital enough to prove that for all the things Hynde understands about rock-and-roll, none are more important than this: Growing old gracefully is for wimps.

-- CHRIS KLIMEK

By J. Freedom du Lac |  February 3, 2009; 12:41 PM ET Live Last Night
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Perceptive review of a great show.

This band, for all its personnel changes, is as tight and as brilliant as ever. I don't think anyone - except, maybe, Ms.Hynde - could have predicted that the band would have remained so fine after the losses of Honeyman-Scott and Farndon from the original, gifted lineup.

And yes - James Walbourne never slouched a bit into the "I can play 'em just like he did" mode. In each case, he brought something new to the songs, but without violating their integriy. And the new ones? He owned 'em.

And maybe this is part of the secret of how this band's kept its identity and its gifts: Hynde and Chambers seemed genuinely joyous to be playing the gig, and to be working with the three "newcomers."

A great night for all.

Posted by: NickPayne | February 3, 2009 1:42 PM

There's also a positive review of the Boston show at the Standard Time web site:

www.countrystandardtime.st

The show was Wednesday, Feb. 4.

Posted by: countryst | February 5, 2009 10:51 PM

There's also a positive review of the Boston show at the Standard Time web site:

www.countrystandardtime.st

The show was Wednesday, Feb. 4.

Posted by: countryst | February 5, 2009 10:52 PM

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