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The Pretenders @ The Wiltern, 3/10/09

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Photo by Bobzilla/LAist

Photo by Bobzilla/LAist
“We’ve been playing a lot of country tonight”, said Chrissie Hynde as the Pretenders returned for their first encore at the Wiltern. The previous 90 minutes had been heavily weighted toward the band’s latest album, the faintly Nashville-flavored Break Up The Concrete, with a healthy dose of their greatest hits and a couple of 80s-era fan favorites dropped in.

“But you deserve punk!”

With that, the band dove face first into “The Wait”, the first of four songs from the first side of their first album, an LP side that could be the most perfect twenty-minute slab of salty-sweet/ power-pop / punk-influenced classic rock ever concocted. By the time they hit the “fuck-off” climax of “Precious”, the crowd was foaming at the mouth. But it was during the closing “Up The Neck” that the show hit its high point.

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“His face went berserk and the veins bulged on his… (dramatic pause)… brow.”

To a twelve-year old watching the Midnight Special in 1980, the video for “Tattooed Love Boys” coming on between Billy Joel and Gary Numan was a bit like wandering from Disneyland's Tiki Room into an S&M parlor. It was a side-long glimpse, but we understood what “I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for” was about. And yeah, it was a little scary. Hynde’s sordid tales of migraine-inducing love are funny, a little scary and kind of hot at the same time, which about sums up the band’s early appeal.

And the Wiltern show was long on that kind of appeal. Not only is she still a scary chick, not to mention a great singer, but this lineup is probably the best-suited for that material that she’s had in over twenty years, despite the overt countrifying touches. Steel guitarist Eric Heywood (formerly of Son Volt) has integrated himself into the band’s oldies beautifully, and he brings a welcome new color to well-worn staples like “Kid” and “Don’t Get Me Wrong.” And it’s hard to imagine the new songs without him, or new guitarist James Walbourne. Walbourne has been a fantastic addition to the group, a great instrumental foil for Hynde’s songwriting and an assertive lead player with a keen sense of dynamics.

This band - which also includes original drummer Martin Chambers, still impressively strong, and new bassist Nick Wilkinson - looks to have a great future ahead of them, for the first time in years. Here’s hoping they can keep up the energy they’ve discovered for this material, because while a good oldies show is always welcome, especially when the oldies are as good as theirs, a rock album as good as Break Up The Concrete is an increasingly rare thing.