Everyone wants to get into the “Unplugged” act, if, sometimes, for no other reason than the ego-gratifying chance to demonstrate that they, too, can cut it musically. Add to the list of successful non-juiced acts the name Pretenders — or rather, their sparkplug Chrissie Hynde, whose strong catalog of songs easily withstood the test.
Although neither the show nor the Pretenders’ new live album of familiar tunes, “The Isle of View” (Warner Bros.), was billed as unplugged, there were acoustic 6- and 12-string guitars all around for the tall, slender leader and Adam Seymour.
Though Seymour went electric with a vengeance in some of the encores, much of the show had the same relaxed, no-flash, easy-grooving manner so familiar from MTV’s ongoing series.
Any thoughts that Hynde, with a string quartet in tow, would pull an Elvis Costello-like conversion of style and sound were mostly unexplored. The quartet was there mostly to decorate and sweeten the landscape. The murky acoustics, however, often didn’t allow them to be heard clearly.
Hynde’s songs held up beautifully in this less-charged setting, and while her voice can still snap and bite, her perspectives on her youthful songs are changing: “Private Life” remains pretty much what it was 15 years ago but Chrissie’s vocal seethes more now; the once incredibly sexy “Brass in Pocket” now sounds a bit less lascivious.
“Kid” underwent an astounding transformation — from a pounding rocker to a caressing lullaby backed by only a guitar and the strings, the tune revealing an unmistakable kinship to “Unchained Melody.”
Again, as in many another “Unplugged” concert, this one showed how deeply much of the best rock ‘n’ roll is rooted in folk music and that good songwriting can travel in any number of vehicles.