Forty-five minutes later, done up in regulation fishnet and leather, hair sparkling and eyes glinting from behind that famous fringe, Chrissie Hynde prowls the Leadmill's allotment-sized stage. She looks magnificent, untouched by 15 years in the business, a rock'n'roll fresher at 42.
Prancing about like a frisky young-blood, volleying kick-chords into the stratosphere, a pouting, hip-shaking Hynde was clearly experiencing some kind of rock re- birth. She seemed to need the reassurance of regular glances to bass and guitar, and at the start of 'Talk of the Town' came over decidedly hesitant. But the voice never wavered. Sultry drowsiness one moment, heart-piercing screams the next, her vocals bounced off the dingy club walls, creating the sort of effect clubbers might call wrap- around aural ambience. Only once, when the guitarist Adam Seymour found the wrong pitch in 'Back on the Chain Gang', did things briefly threaten to unravel. But by then they were encoring, and Hynde's confidence was sufficiently sky- high to shrug it off.
The key to the band's tightness was the pounding stick-work of Martin Chambers, the original drummer in the line-up. Back in the fold, he kept up a whirlwind battery assault, prompting Hynde to pronounce him 'the world's greatest rock drummer', no less. Wild-eyed and regularly spraying drink into the air, he capped a vintage performance by turning his drumsticks to tinder in an explosive climax to 'Precious'. This was the Pretenders as you wanted to remember them circa 1980, and not even new material could ruin the triumph.
Sensibly, Hynde opted to ignore the UB40 collaboration, 'I Got You Babe', and mixed up the new ones in what was a virtual reprise of The Singles compilation. If you were asked to name the last (half-) decent Pretenders single, you'd probably go back almost a decade to 1986 and 'Don't Get Me Wrong'. Thereafter, Hynde had become side- tracked by a desire to transmute into super eco-heroine, the vegetarian in her mounting a one-woman campaign against McDonalds. She had become a kind of Sting with balls. So disinterested was she in her own lethargic output, that, in an interview with Q magazine, she referred to her 1990 album, Packed, as 'just 10 stupid little pop songs'. Few were arguing.
This year's new offering, Last of the Independents, looks to have turned the downward curve around. Hungry once more for life on the road, Hynde has left Linda McCartney to man the vegeburger stall, and is busy rediscovering an appetite for a diet of R-O-C-K. Some of the tracks, particularly 'Money Talk', a rootsy, funked-up, driving rocker, hold out promise for the new album. Only the single, 'I'll Stand by You', an uninspirational stadium ballad if ever there was one, fell short of the mark.
However, even during these relative lows, the sense of occasion brought them on through. This was a gig that did not stand on ceremony. The doormen barely checked the tickets, and there wasn't a programme or T-shirt in sight. The overall impression was not of an early date on a mini-tour, but of an exclusive behind-closed-doors party in a friend of the band's front room. And all the while, Hynde retaining her rediscovered poise.
It takes an icy nerve to attempt a come-back and pull it off (ask Debbie Harry). When 'cool' was being poured out, Chrissie Hynde forgot to say 'when'. Peeling off her jacket to reveal a trademark skimpy black zipper singlet, she shot down the wolf-whistles with a quickdraw put-down: 'You wouldn't dare comment now, would you?' The no-shit attitude surfaced again and again, but there was always time for a loosed-off grin as she dipped her vulture's shoulder into another guitar break.
An ironic reminder - 'We are after all a punk band, aren't we?' - preceded some of the spikier content from Pretenders, before ending with the furious 'Precious' and the best delivered 'fuck off' in the history of rock. 'You can have Barbra Streisand for pounds 50,' she said by way of a farewell. 'Tonight you had us for 10.' A real princess.
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