There is a palpable frisson around the more bijou of the two 229 venues situated a stone's throw from Great Portland Street Tube station as the woman who has been synonymous with the heady, radio-friendly rock of The Pretenders for 35 years gets ready to preview her debut solo album.
Entitled Stockholm, since it was mostly recorded there with Björn Yttling of indie rock group Peter Bjorn and John, it possesses enough Chrissie Hynde hallmarks to please her long-standing fans while reinvigorating her sound and songwriting enough to attract a new generation of hipster kids.
She saunters on stage with an acoustic guitar, four musicians who have toured with The Kooks and Manic Street Preachers, and draws the audience in with "Tourniquet", the tremolo in her voice as seductive as ever. The next song, "Sweet Nuthin'", has a Pretenders-like swagger as she rhymes "maybe" and "baby" like so many of the Sixties acts who inspired her. "I know you haven't heard any of this before but it's awesome," she jokes. She is not far wrong, the spoken passage of "House of Cards", another nod to the girl groups retooled for 2014, and the Phil Spector-style pop rush of single-in-the-waiting "You Or No One", make the most of her yearning delivery and demonstrate Hynde has lost none of her melodic flair.
Wearing a Stella McCartney striped waistcoat, black trousers and suede boots, she still looks like the tough, streetwise tomboy who left her native Akron, Ohio, 40 years ago and found herself surrounded by punks. But her voice has always had an endearing vulnerability that makes current material like "You're the One" all the more affecting. "Fifty-five-year old men getting down on the floor and picking up my plectrum? It doesn't get better than this, for me anyway," she quips before "In a Miracle".
Switching to a Fender Telecaster, she snarls her way through rocker "Down the Wrong Way" with lead guitarist Ollie McLaren making a decent fist of replicating Neil Young's blustery appearance on the album. Hynde has famous friends – Tracey Thorn and Don Letts are in attendance – and promises that John McEnroe will join her in the summer for "A Plan Too Far", the track he guested on, but she remains very much her own woman.
"Adding the Blue", the set and album closer inspired by comics artist S. Clay Wilson, is a power ballad to redeem the genre in the vein of the anthemic "I'll Stand By You", the last Pretenders biggie from 1994. She encores with current radio single "Dark Sunglasses", her take on the English class system, which proves she may have been a UK resident for most of her life but still has an outsider's eye.
It's a gutsy move not to perform any Pretenders hits but Hynde pulls it off. This new chapter could yet prove to be one of the most compelling of her storied career. As she sang during "Like in the Movies" earlier, "the audience goes home satisfied."Reuse content