Pretenders are still the real thing
Hynde's band stirs sold-out
Warfield with tough, timeless rock
By Neva Chonin, Chronicle Pop Music Critic
San Francisco Chronilcle - Monday, March 3, 2003:
Ten songs into the Pretenders' Saturday show at the Warfield, singer- guitarist Chrissie Hynde pithily summed up her group's enduring appeal and, in the process, the appeal of rock music as a whole.
"I think our band represents all the great losers of the world," she told a cheering sold-out crowd. "Because it's all about the losing." With that, she handed off her guitar, grabbed the microphone and led the Pretenders into the power ballad/anti-anthem "The Losing," off their 2002 album, "Loose Screw."
The crowd roared appreciatively because it knew where Hynde was coming from:
At its best, rock is a soundtrack for the world's beautiful -- and not so beautiful -- losers, misfits who channel their outsider status into ragged and uncompromising art.
During the first of their two nights at the Warfield, the Pretenders proved they still hew to that ideal. From Hynde's elegantly wasted, Keith Richards- cool-and-confrontational stage banter to her band's enthusiastic delivery of two decades' worth of material, the 110-minute set was a case study in old- school rock attitude.
Since releasing their landmark 1980 debut album, the Pretenders have gone on to blend multiple music eras and currents -- classic '60s pop, R&B, melodic punk, reggae -- into a signature sound that has landed them in the pantheon of great American rock bands. And despite a series of career stutters throughout the '90s, their catalog has aged remarkably well. In fact, it's hardly aged at all. The Pretenders might have had their heyday in the '80s, but their music, so imbued with rock tradition, transcends eras.
"I feel f-- great, how about you?" Hynde hollered after a run through the single "Message of Love." The singer sounded great as well. Her soulful delivery on older favorites such as "Talk of the Town" and the aching "Kid" cut close to the original versions; her elastic growl still added sulky punch to "Tattooed Love Boys" and "Precious."
The latest incarnation of the Pretenders -- Hynde, drummer Martin Chambers, guitarist-vocalist Adam Seymour, bassist Andy Hobson and a touring keyboardist- percussionist -- deftly backed up Hynde, fleshing out and complicating songs like "Back on the Chain Gang" and a bluesy take on "My City Was Gone."
Between songs, the pugnacious Hynde, in a classic black T-shirt and jeans, bantered and battled with the crowd. She dedicated "You Know Who Your Friends Are" to "all you junkies and f--," gave a shout-out to the late Joe Strummer, opined that she hopes the United States loses if it goes to war with Iraq ("Bring it on! Give us what we deserve!"), and introduced the song "Fools Must Die" with the self-deprecating quip, "I'll show you how it's done."
The set included a trove of older tracks, most notably from the band's superb debut album, including a double-header of "Mystery Achievement" and "Brass in Pocket" to close out the night. Ballads like "I'll Stand By You" intersected with harmonized rockers like "Don't Get Me Wrong," and occasional jam sessions added weight to tight, note-for-note renditions of favorite songs.
Through it all, Hynde's vegan-fueled chutzpah was relentless. "If you want to know how to have a body like this at my age, before you're 50 ride a Harley backstage after every show," she announced before the reggae track "Complex Person." The crowd cheered. She smirked. "Make that before you're 55."
If rock and roll does fade away, it's unlikely that Chrissie Hynde will. She'll go out with a roar, spitting defiance and dragging her band and fans along for the ride.
E-mail Neva Chonin at nchoninsfchronicle.com.