The Pretenders finish strong at the Orpheum

A review of The Pretenders at the Orpheum Theatre on February 4, 2009

, Staff

The Pretenders hit Boston’s Oprheum Theatre last Wednesday night for a sold out show led by frontwoman/mastermind Chrissie Hynde. With drummer Martin Chambers (the band’s other lone original member), the latest incarnation of the Pretenders delivered a a show that was slow to start but finished strong.

The Pretenders are touring in support of their first album in five years, Break Up the Concrete, which is, oddly enough, a country/rockabilly album, not british pop/punk as one would expect from a British pop/punk band. Surprisingly, the combination of older punk songs and newer rockabilly tunes worked well together when performed live. Maybe Chrissie Hynde is the next Brian Setzer… ok, that’s probably pushing it, but same concept.

The show started with Chambers strutting on stage in what looked like a black, floor length Japanese wrestlers robe. Hynde followed in navy blue knee high high-heeled boots, tight jeans and a t-shirt under a bright pink blazer. Her classic haircut and down lighting caused shadows across her face the entire show, keeping you from really seeing how she’s aged but, to be honest, Hynde still looks pretty good for 57 – being a vegan has probably helped.

The Pretenders soon launched into two new tunes, "Boots of Chinese Plastic" and "Don’t Cut Your Hair", and then really kicked up the volume with their 1980 hit "Talk of the Town". Unfortunately, the show seemed to flounder from here. Perhaps, it was the set list, or the lack of energy on stage, or a crowd that just wasn’t into it, but it took a while before I really felt like I was at a concert by one of the best selling rock bands of all time.

"Message of Love" from Pretenders II really killed whatever momentum "Talk of the Town" had built up, and even hit single "Back on the Chain Gang" couldn’t bring the band out of whatever mid-set funk they were in.

After the rough patch, "Rosalee" got both the band and the crowd back into it. The band started to jive together, with guitar solos that made sense and a slide guitar player who all of a sudden seemed to know what to play and when to play it. The crowd was equally awake and women (and men to a lesser degree) could be found dancing in their seats and in the aisles. During the song, a pair of women in the balcony above me were waving a white Pretenders banner which at the end of the song Hynde pointed to and waved.

Hynde then began the next song, only to get three chords in and stop to look back at Chambers who was shaking his head and smiling. Laughing, Hynde started again and the band joined in for "Don’t Get Me Wrong". Putting her guitar down at the end of the song, Hynde took the mic from it’s stand and sang the next number directly to the crowd while strutting across the front of the stage. "Brass Pocket" was the feather in the cap to the night with Hynde dancing and singing like it was 1979 all over again. The Pretenders had finally arrived and brought the rock show with them. It just took a little longer than expected.

The encore unexpectedly brought "Precious", the first track from their self titled debut in 1980. Though never a single, it’s always has been just a kick ass punk rock song. On Thursday night, it brought the show to a close the way it all started for The Pretenders, the first track from their 1980 punk rock record. While I’m not sold on what happened in between, all’s well that ends well.

American Bang opened the show. The Nashville band played a 70’s stadium-rock style AC/DC and Stillwater (the band from Almost Famous) thrown in for good measure. An excellent set, which was even more impressive since the bass player was performing with a broken right arm from his elbow to hand.

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