Chrissie Hynde’s voice, presence, and band are as strong as ever
Tender but tough as ever, Chrissie Hynde copped some self-deprecating attitude early on Wednesday night at the
“I’m used to being around younger, prettier singers,’’ the 57-year-old Pretenders frontwoman quipped, pausing before the punch line: “That’s what all the guys I dump end up with.’’
If there’s ever a good excuse to drag this cliché from the vaults, now’s the time: Age is nothing but a number for Hynde, who led the Pretenders in a visceral and well-paced set as tight as her pants.
It helps that Hynde is fronting one of the best Pretenders lineups in recent memory, with original drummer Martin Chambers still at the kit. This latest incarnation is especially nimble, handily navigating the Pretenders’ 30-year catalog, from its punk-rock origins (“Precious’’) to Top 40 hits (“Back on the Chain Gang,’’ “My City Was Gone’’) to roots-rocking new material (“Break Up the Concrete’’).
Hynde left most of the guitar flash to James Walbourne, who turned in searing and economical solos on “Kid’’ and “Rosalee.’’ And Hynde, whose voice has barely aged (if at all), still sings like she means every word. “Precious’’ was scorching as Hynde delivered her signature, unprintable kiss-off with a blunt snarl.
At one point, Hynde suddenly realized how much fun she was having and mentioned someone had accused her of being too happy onstage lately. No worries: “I’m just as [expletive] as ever,’’ she said, as if reassuring herself.
The odd woman out on this tour, Chan Marshall, performing as Cat Power with the Dirty Delta Blues behind her, played a dusky set of soulful pop in a venue ill-suited for such intimacy. The Pavilion’s al fresco acoustics reduced much of Marshall’s warm vocals to hard consonants and long vowels - all beautifully sung, mind you, but difficult to engage with and decipher.
Most glaring, however, was the lack of focus, with Marshall often lurking in the shadows far from the occasional spotlight, leaving the performance in dire need of an anchor, something tangible.
Juliette Lewis had the opposite challenge: She packed plenty of heat and feral energy that she doled out to a scattershot audience of maybe 100 people. Still, she gamely performed as if the house were full, one shimmy and rock-star pose at a time. Her stabs at pop-punk fare weren’t nearly as gratifying as when she channeled her inner blues-rocker, crash-landing somewhere between Janis Joplin and the night’s reigning queen named Chrissie.
James Reed can be reached at email@example.com.