Even at 57, Chrissie Hynde has still got it. After three decades, one of the Pretenders’ two remaining original members (drummer Martin Chambers is the other one) has held onto her provocative snarl and influential biker chick style. And even though the band went six years without a studio release before putting out last year’s acclaimed Break Up the Concrete, Hynde’s tough guitars and sweet melodic sensibility live on in the sound of followers like Ida Maria and Lissy Trullie.
But there’s nothing better than the real thing. Last night, Hynde and the rest of the Pretenders, as well as opener Cat Power, performed in the blistering heat as part of the Summer Stage Gala in Central Park.
Singing in the large open-air venue, Cat Power (nee Chan Marshall) didn’t fare that well. Her simmering confessionals live more comfortably in intimate space, but in the middle of Central Park, Marshall’s breathy vocals were smothered by the blaring instruments. And in what has become her signature performance style, the ponytailed singer swayed with her back to the audience, compulsively pulling at her oversized gray t-shirt as she flitted between covers of “New York, New York” from last year’s Jukebox, “(Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” from the earlier Covers Record, and her own shadowy originals, leaving the audience a bit puzzled and disconnected.
The mood brightened when the Pretenders took the stage, as the parched all-ages crowd stood up and remained on their dancing feet for an intense 90-minute set that saw the band alternate songs from its latest release, the critically praised Break Up the Concrete, and classic tracks like “Night in My Veins” and the eternally sassy “Don’t Get Me Wrong. “
Before recording Concrete, Hynde, dressed on this night in a tight black tank top, jeans, and knee-high boots, moved back to her native Akron, Ohio. Fittingly, the new songs she aired on Monday night took a decided turn for the heartland, with the rockabilly-influenced title track, and the sweetly mid-tempo “Love’s a Mystery, ” given particularly strong readings.
The latest incarnation of the Pretenders is composed of seasoned tour musicians, including Pernice Brother guitarist James Walbourne and former Son Volt pedal steel guitarist Eric Heywood, both of whom earned loud applause for their virtuosic solos. Their time in the spotlight was shortlived though. Hynde, her shaggy mullet touched with gray, cut a lean, charismatic figure, as she hopped around the stage and moved between acoustic and electric guitars, harmonica and tambourine, stopping at the mic to flawlessly belt out new wave gems like “Kid” and “Back on the Chain Gang. “
For an encore, the band ambled its way through the weepy ballad “I’ll Stand by You” before sending fans home with a buzz courtesy of the sassy “Brass in Pocket” and the crunching “Middle of the Road.”
According to reports, Monday night was New York City’s hottest of the year. Anyone who saw the Pretenders would have little trouble believing that.