A review of The Pretenders is generally a review of founder and lead singer Chrissie Hynde. So let's get the obvious out the way. The Pretenders performed in Houston at the House of Blues on Saturday night. And Chrissie Hynde may be 57-years-old, but damn, she is one fine looking woman. She came out in tight jeans and purple boots -- probably made of Chinese plastic -- and a tight black jacket. Her hair was longish, and the bangs were in her eyes. In short, Chrissie Hynde at 57 looks like Chrissie Hynde at 27. How she does it is beyond me.
This lineup of the band includes Ms. Hynde along with the original drummer, Martin Chambers. And though Chambers wasn't the drummer for the recording of the new The Pretenders album Break Up The Concrete, it's Chambers drumming that drives the band in concert. And drive this band down a well-traveled he does, and does well.
The band opened up with the best song off of the new album, "Boots of Chinese Plastic," then moved into another cut off of the album, "Don't Cut Your Hair." Surprisingly, for a new album that's not exactly receiving lots of airplay here in Houston, the packed crowd reacted with as much enthusiasm to these numbers as they did to oldie "Talk of the Town" which was the set's third song. And by the time the opening chords of "Message of Love" hit the crowd for the fourth song, Chrissie and the boys were firmly in command.
The concert was a tight, simmering, ninety minute set of about 22 songs with a good mixture of band classics and new cuts from the new album. And Chrissie Hynde was in fine voice and fine form, sexily slinking about the stage, using the same moves she's employed since the beginning days of the band. But unlike Mick Jagger and others, who look ridiculous when pulling the same shtick they've been using since youngsters, Hynde -- who still looks as great as she did when she hit the big time -- is still a purring sex kitten using her legs, her smile, her side-step, and her imagination.
Highlights of the concert, along with the opening four song barrage, included "Tequila," the band's cover of the Ray Davies penned "Stop Your Sobbing," "Cuban Slide," "Rosalee," and the title cut to the new album which closed out the set. The band then came out for the obligatory encores -- encores which completely dropped the country sound of the set -- the new album has touches of country throughout -- for some punk rock excess, including the highlight of the night, for me, "Precious," and "The Wait," "Tattooed Love Boys," and "Up The Neck."
Chrissie did perform some of the band's biggest hits. She introduced "Back on the Chain Gang" by telling us that this was a song she hoped that we remembered, then wondering "what kind of crap introduction" was that because of course we would remember. Then after a blistering "Brass In Pocket"which she had introduced by saying she should get this one over with -- and damn, she looked fantastic moving about the stage on this song -- she did "Don't Get Me Wrong."
It was great hearing these songs live, and Chrissie and the band killed, but there was one small, slight problem for me on "Back on the Chain Gang" and "Don't Get Me Wrong." The new album, as I said above,has a country sound to it, including the use of the pedal steel guitar. So she's got the steel guitar incorporated into most of the songs the band performed, and for me, at times, the steel guitar distracted from the songs. Chambers is pounding on the drums like it's the early-80s and this is a blistering rocker, and the lead guitar, Chrissie Hynde, and the bassist, are playing rockers, as the songs were recorded, and then from nowhere, on the edges, is a steel guitar. It didn't hurt all of the songs -- especially the new ones which were recorded with it -- but on "Back on the Chain Gang" and "Don't Get Me Wrong," it just kind of bugged me.
Martin Chambers, who Hynde calls the best drummer in rock and roll history, was solid on the drums -- especially on the numbers dating back to early in the band's career -- you really need to see him handle "Tattooed Love Boys." James Walbourne handled lead guitars with aplomb, Nick Wilkinson was handy with the bass, and Eric Heywood was on the pedal steel guitar.
Before she launched the band into "Day After Day," Hynde sent out a dedication to James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, the other two founding members of the band with Hynde and Chambers, and both who died of drug overdoses between the recording of the band's second and third albums. Hynde said that she and Chambers would never have made it to where they are without those two, then she stated that if not for her and Chambers, maybe Honeyman-Scott and Farndon would still be alive.
Chrissie Hynde joked upon the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that they'be become nothing but a tribute band. But nothing could be further from the truth. Chrissie and the guys sound as lively and vital today as they did when "Brass In Pocket" was bombarding the U.S. airwaves way back in the day. This band still grooves and kicks with the best of the of the youngsters.
It was a delightful concert.
And I need to say again that, damn, Chrissie Hynde is one fine looking woman.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS CONCERT NOTES:
Opening acts generally don't impress me -- unless it's Elvis Costello opening for The Police. But the opening act for Saturday's concert was this rock band from Nashville-way called American Bang. And bang they did. These guys weren't out to reinvent the wheel. They just pounded on the drums and blistered with the guitars for a 35-minute set that got the crowd in just the right mood for Chrissie Hynde and the boys.
The last time I was this blown away by the opening band was in 2003 when I went to see Liz Phair. There was this band opening for her called Wheat, and they came out and did this great set that pulled the crowd from apathy to wanting them to stay on and perform a few more hours. I felt the same way about American Bang.
I thought it was kind of ironic (don't ya think) that The Pretenders played Houston on the day of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo parade. Particularly since the House of Blues isn't far off of the parade route, and particularly since Chrissie Hynde is a big member of PETA -- they were selling PETA gear at the show.
I half expected her to say something about the rodeo, but she stayed silent. She didn't really talk much during the show at all, except to insult Martin Chambers at times or make some general small talk.
Speaking of which, I've read in the past that she has problems with photographers in the crowd -- there were signs all over forbidding the use of cell phone cameras -- and that she supposedly bitches at people talking during her performance, or is just a general bitch. None of this was evident during Saturday's show.
She wore a smile the entire night and often spoke and mixed with the people down front. Then again, I also didn't see any cell phone cameras.
And to my disappointment, no they did not do "Middle of the Road," "My City Was Gone," or "Thin Line Between Love and Hate" -- which would have been hard to do since they had no keyboards. But I can't think of any song they did do that I would have wanted to have cut so that these three songs could have been done. It must be nice to have so much material that your band can cut three major songs yet have no one complain about it.
And damn, Chrissie Hynde is one hot woman.