What’s it like to have the Pretenders perform in your living room? A few hundred fans at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom got a good approximation Wednesday night when Chrissie Hynde led her bandmates through a sometimes sloppy but ultimately stirring 100-minute set of past hits and songs from their spankin’ new CD, ”Viva El Amor!” Prior to the industry showcase, Hynde told EW Online the biggest misconception people have about her is that she can really wail on her sparkly silver Telecaster: ”My guitarist keeps telling people, ‘Oh yeah, she’s really good,’ but come see me play on the Lilith tour and you’ll see how I f— every song up. It’s how we keep our punk sensibility.”
Dressed in her trademark skintight black jeans and untucked white shirt with shiny tie, the 47-year-old Hynde used her favorite four-letter word to abuse or flirt with her fans. At one point she snarled at an unruly guy down front, ”I’m gonna kick your f—ing teeth in!” Later, when a female fan shouted out a request for ”Ohio,” Hynde smiled back, ”Ah, another f—ing loser from Akron, like me.”
The show’s living-room informality included a lot of between-song chatter about which tune to play next. And while this casual approach slowed the set’s pacing, it led to some memorable moments, including a spontaneous cover of Radiohead’s ”Creep” in which Hynde taught guitarist Adam Seymour the song’s chord progression as Martin Chambers kicked in on drums. Other highlights included rousing versions of ”Kid,” ”Stop Your Sobbing,” ”I’m a Mother,” and ”Money Talk” (the latter two from the Pretenders’ underrated 1994 album, ”Last of the Independents”).
In the end, Hynde’s infectious energy and one-of-a-kind voice — able to evoke quiet melancholy one moment and righteous anger the next — made the show feel up-to-date, not just another comeback by a formerly great New Wave band (watch and learn, Blondie). By the time the Pretenders’ 17-date Lilith stint gets underway July 13 in San Francisco, Chrissie & Co. should have rehearsed the remaining kinks out of their live show, so you won’t want to miss them. Who knows, she might even offer to kick your f—ing teeth in.
(Additional reporting by Liane Bonin)