Hard to believe, but indeed it’s true: It has been 20 years since the Pretenders first hit the U.S. top 10 with their debut disc. And despite the loss of half their original membership to overdoses, and having a kind of revolving door of members except for singer Chrissie Hynde, they’ve not only endured and prevailed, but also this edition of the band is quite possibly the best one since the quartet that cut “Pretenders” back during the Carter administration.
Being the tragedy magnets that they are, the Pretenders’ on this “Viva El Amor” tour have already endured a minor horror show, drummer Martin Chambers is playing the dates with a broken left foot. Aside from that mishap, the band and its contentious singer were in fine form at the Universal.
Commencing with a pair of somber new tunes amidst deep purple lighting, the Pretenders brought the nearly full house to its feet early on with 1981’s “Message of Love,” and that seemed to be the pattern established for the rest of the show — oldies yes, new ones, nada. The half dozen selections from the recent discs seemed pleasant enough, but this is an older act with older fans who don’t seem to interested in anything but rock classics. Hynde even prefaced a duo of new songs with a suggestion that it might be a good time for a smoke break — and was taken up on it by aisles full of fans.
That said, Hynde is a rock legend and every little gesture brought a rousing ovation — a little dance, a few harmonica solos, a lounge-y coda on “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” lots of show biz tricks. With a rep as perhaps the most acid-tongued front-person in mainstream rock, she can say just about anything and get away with it.
Smart-assed she may be, but savvy she is as well. The Pretenders’ two lengthy encores featured a screed aimed at Courtney Love and five songs from their debut climaxing in “Brass in Pocket.”