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Pretenders, CSS @ Indie 103's Wreck The Halls, Club Nokia 12/10/08

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Chrissie Hynde is so cool, she can get away with talking to her audience like a cranky old man without losing their affection.

"I don't like having my picture taken...surprised?" she remarked after having interrupted the previous song to chastise a gaggle of fans for getting overeager with the cell phone cameras. Hey, it's a cell phone company's club you're playing at, and they presumably want to sell more of those phones that take nice looking pictures at rock concerts. At another point she asked us "What do you want to hear?" and as a chorus of shouted requests made their way to the stage, she interrupted, "As long as it's not a PRETENDERS song!"

How she gets away with it is, in between the occasional snotty remark, you get some of the best, most heartfelt, and beautifully performed Anglophile-American rock and roll ever made. Their first three albums out of the gate are near-perfect, mountainous accomplishments, and if they haven't really topped them since, well you know, Axl Rose just spent fifteen years and a hundred skidillion dollars trying to come up with what amounts to his fourth album and nobody except Chuck Klosterman has ANYTHING good to say about that. Three great albums is still a hell of a legacy, and the goodwill they generate can carry you through some lean times.

But it just so happens that their latest, the country-tinged Break Up The Concrete, really is their best one in many, many years and nobody complains when they play songs from it for about half their set. It's a new sound for a mostly-new band, with a pedal steel player joining the new bass player along with new, shit-hot, lead guitarist James Walbourne, alongside Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers.

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The rest of the time, they mostly do their hits, but what hits! "Kid," "Brass In Pocket," "Talk Of The Town," "Message Of Love," "Day After Day," "Back On The Chain Gang," "Don't Get Me Wrong,"--that's a run of singles I'd put against any band of the last thirty years. We also get a barn-dancing "Thumbelina" and a face-first pummel through "The Wait" for an encore.

As great as the new lineup is, they couldn't pull it off if Hynde was faltering. "I'm still hot!" she reminded us, and looked good doing it. She can still sing too, like nothing else you've ever heard. Though they didn't do any Christmas songs - it would have been a nice excuse to break out the gorgeous "2000 Miles," or one of the more traditional seasonal tunes on their new iTunes-only holiday EP - they definitely made things twinkle. "Stop Your Sobbing" felt like the Phil Spector Christmas Album come to life, giant bass drum booming, guitars chiming, sugary harmonies and a big, unmistakable voice riding on top of it all.

They were followed by Brazilian electroclash act CSS (which stands for Cansei de Ser Sexy, Portuguese for "tired of being sexy," not Crosby, Stills and Slash, as one high-spirited person guessed), who hit the stage like someone like flipped the "party" switch on, and held it right there for the next hour. (They played the Echo earlier this month.) They come on like a young, (mostly) female Funkadelic, equally at home among scraping guitar noise and boop-beep-booping synths, as long as the big beat keeps thumping in the background and a catchy chorus is just around the corner. And true to their name, they manage to be sexy without looking like they're trying. At first glance, it looks like the grunge movement has just hit the South American dance scene. Unlike just about every American girl group doing dance music, there's no hoochie factor, just some good-looking people playing instruments, dancing around and looking like they're having a ball. What could be sexier?

This was my first time inside Club Nokia. It's run by the people who run Staples Center so, you know there's gonna be a labyrinth of secret elevators spiriting the VIPs away, along with a pecking order of wristbands that informs the staff how you should be treated at all times. One unusual aspect, the pit section in front of the stage is roped off for holders of an extra-special wristband. On this night that section was only about half-filled for most of the night, which must have looked from the stage like a near-empty room. It's a nice room, the sound system is great, and it feels smaller than it is due to the tiered standing areas. However, they're going to have to do something about the arena- level parking fees if they want to keep us hanging out there on a regular basis.