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Scene / November 3, 1994

The Pretenders, Material Issue,
KSU Ballroom, October 30, 1994
By Josh Epstein

Never am I prouder to be a Firestone High School graduate than when I picture fellow alum Chrissie Hynde strutting her rebel rock swagger down the very same hallowed halls I struggled through 20 years later. Firestone has had its fair share of celebs-in-waiting (felled astronaut Judy Resnick and supermodel Angie Everhart, to name just a few), but nothing compares to a real, live rock star.

So anticipation was high when said rock star hit the stage to a packed hometown house at Kent State. Opening with a rather lackluster rendition of LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS' best track, "Night In My Veins," the show seemed on the verge of anticlimax. That is until Hynde delivered a stunning one-two punch of rock concert PR panache.

First she ordered the crowd to its feet mid-song. Then she stopped the action altogether after the next song, "Talk Of The Town," to admonish the security guards for not letting members of her family move down front. Now either she has a family the size of the Kennedys or there were a lot of charlatans in the Halloween spirit because the front row was soon full. And everyone was ready to rock at that point because everybody loves it when their rock stars turn populist and bitch out security, even if it does create a heinous fire hazard. For the rest of the show, the crowd was Hynde's - family or no.

The rest of the show got underway in picture-perfect fashion. The biggest roar of the night came for Northeast Ohio's theme song, "My City Was Gone," the only song in recorded history to feature the words "Cuyahoga" and "Falls" consecutively.

After getting on the security guys a little more, Hynde was apparently more relaxed, saying "This is starting to feel like a party at someone's house," much to the delight of her waving kinfolk in the pit.

The Pretenders went on to kick out a set of new songs and old favorites, the latter being the crowd's favorite. Whether breaking her tambourine in half during "977" or reminiscing about her days as a Kent State dropout, Hynde obviously was the star of the evening, bonding with the crowd in a more subtle, less long-winded manner than the Boss could ever dream.

But lest you think it was a one-woman band up there, think again. Witness the ball-to-the-wall combo of "Message Of Love" and "Middle Of The Road," which ended the show proper. Loose, hard and raw, the current Pretenders lineup gives you a mean case of blue balls for not playing "Tattooed Love Boys." No wonder drummer Martin Chambers decided to re-enlist.

As the band left for its pre-encore towel-down, the crowd maintained an intensity heretofore unheard of in a venue so small. This was a Coliseum crowd in a room in the student union's body. Are they playing to crowds like this everywhere? Let's hope so.

Returning for encore number one, Hynde proved she has one of the best and most underrated voices in rock and roll on "I'll Stand By You." When you hear her sing like that, you know she's found her destiny. Perfect, as was the ass-kicking muscle-flexing of "Precious."

And in a moment underscoring the beauty of a homecoming show, a girl jumped onstage and requested "2,000 Miles," complete with pursuing security guard. Just trying to do his job, he was rewarded with the evil eye from Hynde.

Ending with "Brass In Pocket," Hynde and company left the stage triumphant, leaving behind a roomful of proud Northeastern Ohioans.

Chicago power trio Material Issue opened the show with a spirited set in the punk dialect, much to the delight of the woman sitting next to me, the only person in the place who knew any of their songs, let alone all of them. And traitor that she was, she left at the beginning of the Pretenders' set.

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