As The Pretenders tour their first album in eight years, Getintothis’ Andy Holland finds the new material stands up to the classics.
The age range of the audience at the Philharmonic Hall was more varied than we anticipated tonight, but the evening nevertheless still seemed to be a one favoured by the nostalgic, excited by the idea of seeing Chrissie Hynde strutting her stuff (which she certainly did, as it turns out).
First off, the support band The Rails take to the stage. Being unfamiliar with the band, we actually assumed they were American for the first few numbers, both of which had a solid, West Coast folk-rock feel. As it turned out the whole band are from London, other than their bass player Danny Williams who is Mancunian. As their set progressed their British origins became more and more obvious; Breakneck Speed from their first album even seemed to owe a debt to the late Stuart Adamson, from Big Country.
As it turns out, Rails singer, Kami Thompson, is Richard Thompson and Linda Thompson’s daughter and this explains rather a lot. Her voice is in that effortlessly soulful folk rock style, and her songwriting seems to draw on that deep well of the British folk scene. Her husband, James Walborne is equally talented, a superb guitarist in a very tasteful way. His playing throughout the night (he’s also a member of The Pretenders) was extremely impressive and his singing blended well with Kami’s.
After a quick run to the bar we returned for the main event, The Pretenders. From the moment they hit the stage, it is clear that Chrissie Hynde is still every inch the bona fide rock star that she has always been. She oozed attitude from the start. absolutely owned the stage and, although, the band run through most of the hits during the set, she still managed to pack in quite a few tracks from the last Pretenders album, Alone, released last year. The set opened with a frantic, fast talking, version of the eponymous track from that album. Her contralto voice is in great shape, still as full of that defiant, sultry charisma as ever.
Chrissie Hynde seemed genuinely impressed by being in Liverpool and made numerous references to the fact during the evening. Firstly remarking that the first album she ever had was a copy of Meet The Beatles and that she had taken the tour earlier in the day. Later in the evening you dedicated a song about womanhood to the original Beatles wives; Maureen Starkey, Olivia Harrison, Cynthia Lennon, and Linda McCartney – the latter, of course, had been a close personal friend of Hynde’s.
It was noticeable that original Pretenders drummer, Martin Chambers, was present. He’s been back for a while as it turns out. The band never quite sounded like The Pretenders without him, nobody else seemed capable of playing those pounding, almost tribal beats as convincingly. Like Hynde, Chambers is one of rock’s true originals, evidence of how imaginative the punk genre was during their heyday.
The set’s earliest example of how well Hynde and Chambers’ styles meshed together was on the classic Message Of Love. A sort of rock/reggae hybrid with an instantly recognisable drumbeat and an offbeat staccato guitar riff, no other song sounds quite like it.
The Pretenders’ classic singles still sound fresh. Great versions of Stop Your Sobbing, Kid, Don’t Get Me Wrong, Talk Of The Town, I’ll Stand By You, Back On The Chain Gang – the only song that dragged from those early years, as far as this writer is concerned, was Private Life, even though it had plenty of guitar pyrotechnics in it.
As much as it was fantastic to hear all those old tracks being played live again, for this writer, the most outstanding songs of the night seemed to be Chrissie Hynde’s new material; I Hate Myself and Let’s Get Lost, from the new album, were magnificent and easily stood up against the already acknowledged classics.
Yes, Hynde is still as dynamic and creative as she ever was. There still seems to be a part of her that is the fourteen year old girl in Akron, Ohio, longing to lead a band of her own, wielding an electric guitar. The fact that she is still doing precisely that still seems to thrill her and the effect is contagious.
Images by Getintothis’ Peter Gooodbody