Chrissie Hynde Bayou Music Center November 20, 2014
During "Talk of the Town," one of the Pretenders' best-loved songs, Chrissie Hynde pointed up to the seats in Bayou Music Center's balcony. It was intended to be a nod to the people at the back of the hall, a standard rock and roll gesture.
Only no one was sitting up there. Hynde squinted through her trademark dark eyeliner, said to her guitarist "There's no one up there!" and peeled off a beautiful smile at her own faux pas.
That realization might have sent a more impetuous, less secure artist reeling, but not Hynde. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer just shrugged it off and continued her set for the Houston fans who had joined her this night. Touring simply as Chrissie Hynde, she ran through nearly two dozen songs that bridged her earliest days putting Pretenders through their paces to Stockholm, the 2014 release that for the first time ever bears her name instead the band's.
A couple of things were clear from opening track "Don't Lose Your Faith in Me," a song taken from 2008's Break Up the Concrete. Hynde's pleading vocals were strong proof she's preserved her voice well over a nearly 40-year career. She warmed up further with "Biker," from Viva El Amor, and "In a Miracle," a standout from the new album.
Also obvious -- and a lot less exciting -- was Hynde's disdain for mobile-phone camera use at concerts. Before she ever hit the stage, fans were urged by posted signs and a pre-recorded P.A. message to "be in the moment and not behind the screen." She mouthed to a fan in the front rows "Don't use your phone," during the first song and continued her admonishments throughout the night.
Consider that Hynde started playing during the punk explosion. She was there for more than just the birth of a new rock genre; she was at the grassroots of a global movement. If anyone knows what it's like to live fully in the moment of something special, it's her.
On the other hand, she is making new -- and excellent -- music in 2014 and is touring in support of that music. And performing live in 2014 almost assuredly means playing to a crowd partially hidden behind the veil of hard-shell camera cases. It just comes with the territory now, like a ticket service charge or the upcharge on beer sold at a live-music venue. Fighting it as often and as vocally as she did just made her sound like a mom badgering the kids to put away the gadgets.
Fortunately Hynde always found her way back to the music, in a set loaded with offerings from Stockholm. I counted seven of the album's 11 tracks, the best of which were "In a Miracle," "Sweet Nuthin'" and closer "Dark Sunglasses." That song is the sort of magic that is created when a young artist -- in this case, Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John, who produced Stockholm -- taps into everything that made a legendary artist great to begin with.
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As for the older stuff, "My City Was Gone" was the first to get the audience up from its seats and dancing. The live version of "Downtown - Akron" sizzled like frayed wiring. "Kid," "Tattooed Love Boys," and "Back on the Chain Gang" all summoned memories and very healthy appreciation to Hynde for dusting those off for the tour.
Before she launched into one of Pretenders' biggest charters, "Don't Get Me Wrong," she invited "the girls" to dance and said "Alright,..fuck it. If you want to take pictures, do it now." The camera phones quickly reappeared and Hynde came to the foot of the stage, as if posing for those iPhone and Android moments. The song ended and she asked the crowd to return the phones to hidden places for the duration of the show. By then, we'd all been in the moment long enough to know we wouldn't soon forget it.
Personal Bias: We didn't hear "Message of Love," "I'll Stand By You" or "Middle of the Road." But, Hynde and company cranked out a brain-crushing version of "Precious." I knew if I heard that one, I'd get my money's worth. I was right.
The Crowd: A guy in a Haight and Ashbury T-shirt. A couple doing Chubby Checker's twist during the encore. The people who were once badasses with cool taste in music who gave birth to the kids who are the present-day badasses with cool taste in music. But, very few of the present-day badasses with cool taste in music.
Overheard In the Crowd:
Her: Do you have your glasses? Him: "Yeah, I think I have a pair. They're from Walmart."
Overheard 2: "This song makes me want a California Cooler."
Random Notebook Dump: How old was the crowd? There were too many people for one blogger to poll, but here's an indication: Hynde's drummer asked the crowd if Houston had a nickname. Someone shouted out "Boomtown," so, when the set ended Hynde said, "Thank you, Boomtown!"
Boomtown? No one's called H-town Boomtown since first-run episodes of Alf were airing. Boomtown?!
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