The Pretenders, Koko, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Like Jimi Hendrix and Suzi Quatro before her, Chrissie Hynde had to leave the US and come to Britain to become one of rock's icons. She remains a dedicated campaigner for animal rights and a scourge of McDonald's, but still appears most at home fronting The Pretenders. However, given recent pronouncements that she now considers herself semi-retired, this one-off gig to herald the release of the career-retrospective set Pirate Radio raises the question: where now for the great Pretender?

Opening with a blast of harmonica and the instrumental "Not a Penny" and launching into the autobiographical "Pack It Up", the girl who left Akron, Ohio, in 1973 is still a garage rocker at heart. With the jingle-jangle supreme of "Talk of the Town", she has the crowd in the palm of her hand, and she is giving the members of Razorlight and the support band The Feeling a lesson in concise songwriting and precise singing. The way she delivers "Hold a Candle to This" and "Never Do That" with a slight quiver of her lips sells the tracks from 1990's Packed! album to an audience expecting the hits.

Driven by the original drummer, Martin Chambers, "Thumbelina" is pure honky-tonk, but the spine-tingling "Day After Day" is The Pretenders at their best. The guitarist Adam Seymour does a sterling job on the urgent, circular riff written by the late James Honeyman-Scott, and the band follow the disco strut of "My City Was Gone" with "Kid", dedicated to Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, who both died after the group's initial rush of success in the early Eighties.

How far might The Pretenders have gone if the two founder members hadn't fallen to the rock'n'roll lifestyle? Still, Hynde and Chambers have kept the flame and follow "Back on the Chain Gang" and "Fools Must Die" with the Bo Diddley-like "Cuban Slide" and the barnstorming "Porcelain", two B-sides recorded with the original line-up. It's been a set for the connoisseur and "Mystery Achievement" and "The Wait" nestle in the encores.

After "Stop Your Sobbing", the Kinks song they made their own, she teases the audience with the opening verse of the power ballad "I'll Stand by You", the group's last big hit, in 1994, but soon dismisses "this piece of shit". Instead, they end with their 1979 chart-topper, "Brass In Pocket", Hynde acting out the lyrics, ruffling up her hair and strutting away. She is indeed special, so special.

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