Chrissie Hynde’s face shows as little trace of age as her stage antics. Her skin is smooth, her style animated — an honest return to the pure punk frenzy that fueled this band back in the late ’70s. For anyone who came of age to the Pretenders’ early No time was wasted in getting to Pretenders standards. “Message of Love, ” “Talk of the Town,” “I Go to Sleep,” “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and “My City Was Gone” went two, three, six, seven and eight in the lineup — all done record-perfect. Hits were so emphasized that 15 of the 21 songs performed, including the current single “Night in My Veins,” have received extensive radio airplay over the course of the Pretenders’ 15 years on record.
The addition of original drummer Martin Chambers gave the songs necessary weight and power; his sense of time is the perfect boost to Hynde’s crushed velvet voice. Guitarist Adam Seymour and bassist Andy Hobson are seemingly asked to do no more than duplicate the records while Hynde takes care of most of the lead guitar work. She did so with aplomb — her streamlined solos often sent out signals of rage, her chording was its usual off-kilter and stabbing self.
Hynde and the Pretenders arrived on the heels of Patti Smith in punk’s waning years. Yet she was the rocker who empowered so many as she scorned her own Midwest middle-class upbringing. As she has grown she has created more melodic works and explored more adult concerns — love, marriage, motherhood, devotion — and done it with all the energy of the original band.
The Pretenders, who last passed through L.A. as headliners in 1987 at the Coliseum, are wisely taking the grassroots approach, booking clubs and small halls and making sure each sells out. Hynde knows where she is and does no arena grandstanding — her antics are all spit and fire, though decidedly more good-natured than when the band started.
For all her publicized crusades and concerns — PETA had a table with pamphlets on animal abuse, the bar wasn’t allowed to serve food after 6 p.m. because of her “meat is murder” stance — Hynde was remarkably quiet all night. She introduced songs, did the glad-to-be-back routine, joked with her musicians and attacked her guitar. When someone stays away from the stage for seven years, a little more banter is rightfully expected.