Lovers Lane
In The Flesh

The Pretenders live!

| February 18, 2009

The Pretenders
Riviera Theatre, Chicago
Sunday, February 15, 2009


Most of the names and faces may have changed, but the one constant in The Pretenders is Chrissie Hynde, the rugged frontwoman who first cut her teeth on the late-’70s punk/early-’80s new wave circuits. Though those sounds categorized much of the band’s offerings up through the ’90s, its two post-millennial albums, Loose Screw and last year’s Break Up The Concrete, have respectively dabbled in distilled adult-contemporary rock and Southern roots.

Chances are tickets for the band’s first full tour in six years weren’t sold as a result of newer records, but rather an arsenal of rough-necked dust-kickers from the decade of decadence. Although many popped up within the 90-minute visit, this outing wasn’t a nostalgia trip by any means. If anything, Hynde tried to introduce a plethora of less-familiar tunes to the captive audience and was generally met with indifference.

At first, the disconnect between past and present didn’t that appear extreme, thanks to “Boots Of Chinese Plastic,” a rebellious, rockabilly reveler in the group’s early traditions that howled with guitar-charged electricity and the ringleader’s ageless evolution. However, that wound up being the only real winner from Concrete: “Love’s A Mystery” leaned in a soggy, alt-country direction, sparse garage rocker “Rosalee” never reached its explosive potential, and “You Didn’t Have To” floundered with tame acoustic twangs.

While longtime beat keeper Martin Chambers and pedal-steel player Eric Heywood (the latter of whom played with insurgent icons Son Volt and Alejandro Escovedo) stood out, they were clearly out of place within The Pretenders’ catalog. Hynde kept trying to convince the crowd a stylistic shift was priority, interjecting her signature swagger within a “Don’t Lose Faith In Me” disappointedly framed as a nondescript Memphis soul ballad.

Thankfully, the sand in the hourglass turned upside down on several occasions, finding the group’s figurehead in literally the exact same form as 1980’s self-titled debut. From that album, the latest lineup cruised through the immortal “Brass In Pocket” and, later, “The Wait,” “Tattooed Love Boys,” and “Precious,” re-igniting the fire that tapered on the recent tunes.

Due to the significant time spent on introductory material up front, not all the singles were present (most glaringly “Middle Of The Road,” “Night In My Veins,” and “Sense Of Purpose”), though all were at least spared the syrupy “I’ll Stand By You.” Nonetheless, the group did oblige with growling versions of “Message Of Love,” “Back On The Chain Gang,” and “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” carried by Hynde’s transfixing combination of potent pipes and rowdy riffs.

Even with their age, none of the hits sounded even a shred dated and were likely to continue transcending time. The same compliments can’t be applied to the Concrete cuts, but, as long as practically flawless flashbacks are always peppered into the set list, it’s a safe bet The Pretenders can have another full house even if no one’s paying attention to the new stuff.

Andy Argyrakis

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Category: Live Reviews, Weekly

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