October 11, 2010
By MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times
In a TMZ world of TMI, JP, Chrissie & the Fairground Boys may be seizing the moment at the perfect time.
The band has one album out but a back story to supply several more: The music tracks a May-December romance between John Paul Jones, an up-and-coming singer from Wales, and Chrissie Hynde, a been-there-done-that rock icon who’s about twice his age.
The two, accompanied by a lead guitarist, bassist and drummer, convened Sunday at Park West, where they played all new songs and a cover to a crowd of devoted Hynde hopefuls. But the oddball band scenario collided with audience expectations, creating a show that put both sides of the stage on a learning curve about what to do next time the tour happens to roll back into town.
The Park West was only about one-third full, which would be expected whenever a recognizable name with star power hides behind a billing that doesn’t let her audience know she’s in town. To compensate for the wide, open spaces, the club ushered seats near the front of the stage, which were filled by devotees who were only too happy to kick back for, in some quarters, what felt like a private show.
From the stage, it was a different story. Hynde immediately soured on the arrangement and didn’t hold back in blaming her audience for choosing to sit down while she did all the work. What followed was a display of perfected rock attitude in all its glory: She flipped off the chair squatters, performed one song (“Perfect Lover’) with her back facing the audience and apologized to her band for telling them Chicago was a rocking town.
For the first half of the show, the chastised audience tried to reconnect with the singer but, like a dysfunctional family therapy session, no one was walking out a winner.
It took newcomer Jones to bring both together. On “Portobello,” a song that is not on the new album but for which he handled lead vocals, Jones raised the volume and increased the energy, aided by the slide guitar of Patrick Murdoch. The song sent the audience down to the stage for the remaining six songs left. “Maybe we should start all over again,” Hynde said.
Considering the folk-pop songs from her new album were set to middle tempos, the crowd didn’t have that much to work on, if she was interested in sending them into a fury. Knowing the back story of their relationship was not a necessity, either. On “Leave Me If You Must,” Jones crooned to Hynde while walking the stage with his microphone, but she just shook her head and appeared to wanting none of it.
The highlight was “Murder in My Heart for the Judge,” a Moby Grape cover played near the end, which allowed the band to dig in more deeply and made the audience wish for a Pretenders tour the next time around.