I have a memory of lying on my parents’ couch with a fever on a long ago Friday night. I was about 11 and they let me stay up to watch a music video program. Despite the discomfort, I remember it as being a very special night because the video for “Brass in Pocket” debuted that night. That three-minute experience also marks the exact instance I fell in love with Chrissie Hynde and the music of The Pretenders.
Hynde has quite the musical pedigree … she was at ground zero for the UK punk explosion in the mid-1970s, having worked at Malcom McClaren’s SEX clothing store at the time the Sex Pistols formed, was a friend and songwriting partner with Mick Jones (pre-Clash), and has been rumored to be a member of the long fabled punk band “London SS.” Not bad. Still, you can’t write Hynde off as a hanger on. Her ability to focus her talents on writing and releasing harder edged pop songs at a time when the industry was still reeling from punk and disco allowed her to rise above the fray, establish a fresh sound at the start of the 1980s and maintain it over the last 30-plus years. Simply amazing.
“The Pretenders: Live in London” was recorded at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on July 15, 2009. It is billed as being “100% live” with “no overdubs.” Pulling heavily from their great 2008 release “Break Up the Concrete,” the strong set also features quite a few classic tracks (“Kid,” “Tattooed Love Boys,” “Back on the Chain Gang” … you get the picture).
It’s a good concert despite the shortcomings of Hynde’s current backing band. Martin Chambers is on the drums and continues to be a joy to watch. It’s the bass player (Nick Wilkinson), guitarist (James Walbourne) and pedal steel player (Eric Heywood) that I took umbrage with. On the newer tracks they were spot on.
“Break Up the Concrete” has a definite rockabilly influence and all three are obviously skilled in that particular style. However, the classic cuts are somewhat lacking – enjoyable, but lacking. Wilkinson drives them a bit too hard, much harder than Pete Farndon ever would have. Walbourne is rather precise in his approach to James Honeyman-Scott’s runs and flourishes and, as a result, he lacks feeling and sounds a bit sterile. And, forgive me, but a pedal steel has no place in any of the tracks off of the first two albums, especially “Tattooed Love Boys” or “Precious.”
Hynde sounds as great as ever. Her voice doesn’t age and seemingly neither does she. She possesses a magnetism which draws you in and doesn’t let go. And, at 57, her age at the time of this recording, it’s apparent that she’s not even close to losing it. It is watching Hynde throughout this performance which makes this a must-have for all fans.
*** This is the DVD review of the CD/DVD edition.