She’s pushing 60? Chrissie Hynde revs up another fiery Pretenders show

Categories: Chicago Sun-Times

BY MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times

Like any woman eyeing her 60th birthday, Chrissie Hynde knew the dilemma of being on a bill with two other women who she referred to as “younger, prettier versions of me.”

Why worry? At the Vic Tuesday, where Hynde and the Pretenders topped a bill preceded by Cat Power and Juliette Lewis, the night was less a competition than it was a cool affirmation of durability. Besides decades-spanning hits to choose from, Hynde claimed authority on curbside chic — snug in knee-high black boots that anchored a tanktop, vest and man’s tie — and timeless rock bravado.

The Pretenders can’t claim oldies-band status because with each album, the band keeps getting younger. The current version features drummer Martin Chambers (a founding member) plus three new faces, including Eric Heywood, an alt-country lynchpin whose pedal steel guitar is stamped on albums by Son Volt, Alejandro Escovedo and Richard Buckner.

His entry provided a country lilt to familiarities like “My City Was Gone,” retooled as a honkytonk stomp, and “Kid,” which combined ethereal sonic waves from Heywood’s instrument with the punk hit’s original restlessness.

A recent album, “Break Up the Concrete” (Shangri-La) is more rockabilly, with lyrics that benefit from aged wisdom. “Love’s a Mystery,” a snug country-pop ballad, reflected on the modern era’s intolerance for fidelity; it was more assured than anything now on the Nashville country charts. As for the title song, it may be the only one of its kind to complain about urban development while set to a Bo Diddley beat.

Hynde opened the show with that song, striding out with a handheld microphone and subsequently gliding left to right to left again in constant motion. Delivering the songs in her signature sensuous vocal vibrato, she maintained a sexy playfulness while at the same time did not shirk from aggressive stances. “Precious” allowed her to deliver the song’s kiss-off with a well-timed punch.

The 100-minute show gave the band a chance to open songs up for spiky guitar jams, and there were also turns into blues (“Rosalee”) and ’60s nostalgia (a cover of Chip Taylor’s “Angel of the Morning”). “The Last Ride,” a new song, somber despite the insistent pop beat, was dedicated to Bob Wilson, who co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous in Hynde’s hometown of Akron, Ohio.

Placed in the middle of the bill, Chan Marshall, who records under the name Cat Power, performed an hour set as if continually seizing private moments. Her four-member band created sinewy rhythms and melody lines around her gentle, frequently incoherent vocals, which often sounded like they were floating the singer away from the action.

She did not own up to her reputation for melting down on stage with incoherent fits, but instead she often directed her vocals to her band rather than to the back of the house. The effect made the entire set feel more like a democratic interchange between jazz collaborators. The frequent standout was not even Marshall but drummer Jim White, whose dramatic sense of dynamics did not just enhance the music, it was a feast to watch him pull it off.

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