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San Francisco Examiner / (August 31, 1984)

PRETENDERS GET IT TOGETHER
By Philip Elwood


It was gorgeous last night at the Greek Theater on the UC-Berkeley campus - warm, cloudless with a melon-slice of a moon and plenty of stars, and a full house (the first of two sellouts) for Chrissie Hynde and her group the Pretenders.

They're among the handful of relative newcomers to the upper echelons of commercial success in rock 'n' roll and Hynde certainly is the most impressive and charismatic new singer in the field.

Hynde grew up in Akron, Ohio, but became a born-again rock 'n' roller in England. She should have made it into the big time five years ago with the original complement of the Pretenders - her distinctive voice and mesmerizing inflections while performing such of her original compositions as "Stop Your Sobbing" had made her a potential star in 1979.

But, although their 1980 LP got unanimous praise and their follow-up U.S. tour improved their reputation, the Pretenders by 1982-83 were virtually lost at sea - bassist Pete Farndon and guitarist James Honeyman-Scott had died of drug-oriented afflictions.

Early this year Hynde and her new Pretenders played the Civic Auditorium in an early display of tunes from their new LP, "Learning to Crawl." It was a good concert that was dominated by Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers.

Now, with the LP a great success (as well as singles drawn from it) and a nationwide tour under their belts, the Pretenders are far more an ensemble than was the case last February.

Hynde last night was impressive in her delivery and had her voice-bending and inflections beautifully controlled. Her voice is low contralto, burry and flexible; she seems to understand blues and gospel singing (and even Anne Murray's mellow delivery) but she uses her voice to deliver the often complex lyrics in her original composition.

("Composition," in rock, means essentially that you've written words to simple chord progressions. Melody and the more sophisticated aspects of true composition elude "rock composers.")

Hynde is a surging, emotional deliverer of her lyric message - "Middle Of The Road," "Message of Love," "Watching the Clothes," "Back on the Chain Gang," and "2000 Miles" among many others are basically Hynde's poetic lines set to three-chord rock.

She scribbles out these lyric ideas and she and her band fit them into a musical construction.

Although I love her voice, I found last night that her lyrics were nearly incomprehensible. Hynde and her new Pretenders are typical of the new-wave of rock - first you hear the record (or see a video), then you buy the album to read the lyrics, then you go to the concert to put the whole thing together.

Hynde moves nicely on stage, covering lots of space and playing some guitar and tooting a bit of harmonica. Bassist Malcolm Foster is magnificent - some of the best bass lines I've heard in a long while; guitarist Robbie McIntosh plays well but last night seemed lost in the shadows much of the time.

Spotlighted drummer Martin Chambers, Hynde's oldest sideman, features fog effects, squirting-water effects, drumstick-tossing effects and long episodes of self-indulgence. His basic role as rhythmist often seems to have escaped him.


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