thu 07/07/2022

The Pretenders, Brighton Dome review - phone-free and feisty | reviews, news & interviews

The Pretenders, Brighton Dome review - phone-free and feisty

The Pretenders, Brighton Dome review - phone-free and feisty

Chrissie Hynde's outfit revel in punky Americana to good effect

Before they even step on stage The Pretenders win me to their side. An announcement prior to their appearance tells the audience, “The Pretenders request you keep your phone in your pocket.” Brilliantly, these aren’t idle words. As the gig progresses security quietly but firmly approach anyone with their phone out and asks them to desist. A few songs into the set, Chrissie Hynde has just begun a stripped-down take on her 1986 hit “Hymn to Her”, accompanied only by Welsh keyboard-player Carwyn Ellis, when she stops short. “Would everyone rather watch you take pictures than me sing?” she asks an unwise soul at the front who has disobeyed her request.

As a fan of gigs as communal events, rather than of everyone being partly somewhere else, partly concerned with informing the world they were at said gig, this anti-phone stuff is pleasing. But there’s much more to The Pretenders than a Luddite rock’nroll statement. Their performance emanates a sense of having a good time, boasting much cheeky interplay, fronted by a woman who still regards the concert as a spontaneous display of energy.

Chrissie Hynde has led The Pretenders, on and off, in various guises, for almost 40 years. Behind her on stage, surrounded by Perspex screens, is Martin Chambers, distinctively mutton-chopped, white hair slicked back, an amazing drummer and the sole other member from the classic late Seventies line-up which was decimated by drug deaths. Hynde wears a glittery pink jacket, tight jeans, studded belt, and a Pretenders tee-shirt, a svelte presence wielding an equally glittery guitar, her hair shaggy, punky, her features dominated by measured kohl eyes.

The set, which kicks off with the title track from last year’s Alone album, is peppered with most of the hits – a double punch of “Back on the Chain Gang” and “Talk of the Town” fires things up nicely – but the band seem to enjoy themselves most on numbers that settle into a punk-skiffle rhythm then turn into a jam, as on “Thumbelina” which blossoms into an astounding take on “Middle of the Road”. This grows faster and faster, with guitarist James Walbourne soloing at boggling speed and ferocity, playing off against Chambers' provocative drum patterns.

Hynde is in jovial form – dismissing her phone ban later in the set as a crabby whim. She tells anecdotes, notably about a failed play for the male lead in the video for “I’ll Stand by You”. She asks the crowd at one point, since this is Brighton, why haven’t they made her a gay icon like Madonna. Her singing voice is fine, as it ever was, retaining her trademark combination of softness and steel, which comes to the fore on “Stop You Sobbing”.

However, as she says after twangy Lynch-ian slowie “Let’s Get Lost”, “This is getting too serious, we came to rock’n’roll.” And they surely do in their two encores, notably on 2002 chugger “Break up the Concrete” and bass-led debut album closer “Mystery Achievement”, before eventually giving in to crowd pleas at the last and cheerfully striding through their only chart-topper, “Brass in Pocket”. They gather, arms around each other, and wave at us, thanking us at the very end. It’s a regular concert ritual, of course, but The Pretenders on stage tonight really do seem to be in the flush of something fresh, which is invigorating to witness.

Overleaf: 37-minute set of The Pretenders live in 2016


As someone who has been attending gigs on a regular basis for around 40 years, I feel I must congratulate The PRetenders on what can only be described as a fantastic gig! My only previous Preteners gig was 35 years ago and all I can say is that CH has matured into a fantastic singer/performer. A throughly magical evening.


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