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Melody Maker / January 28, 1984

THE PRETENDERS HAMMERSMITH ODEON
By Crispin Sartwell


I saw the Pretenders a couple of months before the death of James Honeyman-Scott, and I set it down as one of the best concerts I'd ever witnessed. This time around, with the new personnel, they were less confident, less spectacular, less obviously aware of their status as superstars. But they were, I think, even better than before.

There was a calmness and cleanliness about this show that allowed the music, rather than the posturing to show through. It was far less extreme, and perhaps less enthusiastic, also more approachable and enjoyable. The arrogance that has always been an important part of Chrissie Hynde's persona has relaxed into a workmanlike care and competence; each song was clearly and beautifully etched.

Despite the trashing that the new band has received at the hands of the music press (MM included), I have the highest hopes for this line-up of Pretenders. Honeyman-Scott's replacement, Robbie McIntosh, is not as marvellously loose as his predecessor, but he's nevertheless a virtuoso, and he adds a hard, familiar rock edge to the Pretenders' approach. The new bassist, Malcolm Foster, lacks the flamboyance of Pete Farndon, but he's more solid. Martin Chambers is as steady and energetic as ever.

They ran through much of the old material, and McIntosh was neither afraid to assume Honeyman-Scott's licks nor to devise his own. Despite her newfound repose, Hynde snarled out rockers like "Precious" with nearly as much ferocity as ever, and applied her magnificent vibrato to songs like "I Go to Sleep" and "2000 Miles" with newfound delicacy.

And it was on new songs like "2000 Miles" that the performance became really transcendent. "I Hurt You," the best up-tempo song from "Learning to Crawl," stacked up well against the older material, and the high point of the set was a steaming version of the new single, "Middle of the Road." Pure genuine rock 'n roll.

That's all there is, and there ain't no MOR.


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