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Pretenders Day After Day

February 2, 1979 - London, England - Moonlight Club

A review by Mark Williams from Melody Maker, February 3, 1979

The Pretenders
Moonlight Club, West Hampstead

Slithering recklessly through the frozen slush in time to catch the support act at the Moonlight, car radio blurting out Nicky Horne's second record of the evening which is, prophetically enough the Pretenders' "Stop Your Sobbing," his Record Of The Week. Dark Question. How many bands with well-aired vinyl are playing support gigs in pubs? And why? Another Jonathan King-type hype with a bunch of seasoned musos depping for some hicks from the sticks? With Nick Lowe as producer, anything's possible…

But the Pretenders are three seasoned troupers from Herefordshire fronted by mercurial rock journalist-turned-chanteuse Chrissie Hynde, who also plays rhythm guitar with a casual expertise. Following a hasty sound check, they slam straight into "The Wait" which is the B-side of "Sobbing," should have been the A-side and is a tour-de-force of speed-rock. Live, the song assumes even greater urgency with Chrissie Hynde's staccato verbals piercing like darts and Jim Honeyman-Scott's guitar solo transcending the plastic version for sten-gun gusto and, yes, precision.

Most of the ten-song set was penned by Ms. Hynde and/or bassist Pete Farndon. Their material relies on solid hooks, abrupt tempo changes and a tenacious rhythm section. The balance at the Railway Hotel's small back room wasn't all it should have been, but Hynde's strident vocals and attractively jagged-toned Telecaster were clear enough.

Of the non-originals, Question Mark & The Mysterians' "I Need Somebody" perfectly complemented the band's own edgy offerings, but "Stop Your sobbing" didn't. Instead it gave Ms. Hynde a chance to drop her somewhat aggressive, cynically witty stage persona for a few minutes and croon not unlike Sandie Shaw.

But while the Pretenders' confidence never bordered on arrogance, it certainly belied their short history and limited giggery. Their musicianship and the originality of their material failed to impress no one in the smallish audience.

So does destiny have an obligation to elevate the Pretenders on to Bigger Things? Punditry comes cheap - I'm keeping my trap shut.

A review by Richard Williams from Melody Maker - February 10, 1979

The Pretenders
Moonlight Club, West Hampstead

No apologies for following Mark Williams' review of the Pretenders at the Moonlight last week with an instant replay. Now is the time to catch them, before success (which is inevitable) and the consequent expectations modify them in any way.

Last Friday night's event had the edge that feels like minor history being made: lots of interested faces from unexpected quarters, jammed into the Railway Arms' small room, lent a vibrancy to the atmosphere, and the Pretenders delivered.

I thought they'd goofed when they opened with "The Wait," the B-side of their Real Records single, the best thing of its kind I've heard since the MC5's "Looking At You." They hadn't though: almost every subsequent song was its equal (and, in at least one case, its superior). It was one of those sets which build to the point where, when it's over, you're cursing the fact that you didn't have a cassette machine in your bag and a microphone up your sleeve, because you want to hear it all over again, right away.

Chrissie Hynde deals with rock 'n' roll like no woman I've ever seen. She avoids the pop nuances of Debbie Harry while, unlike Siouxsie Sioux or Poly Styrene, making an instrumental contribution (on rhythm guitar) of a weight equal to any of the three men in the group.

Although she looks tuff (by Keith Richards out of Veronica Bennett), there's an uncondescending charm about her introductions and asides which establishes the performer/audience rapport at a very interesting and constructive pitch.

She also happens to be the best new singer in ages: razor-phrasing abets a pushy delivery, and she doesn't have to stop playing while she sings (or vice versa). She can spit out "The Wait" or drawl a Lou-Reed soundalike song about anonymous 'phone calls (better than anything Reed's written in years), and she transfixes the listener both ways.

The band matches her extraordinary power, most notably on "Married Life", the only decent white reggae song I've ever heard, and they cope beautifully with the dense pop textures of Ray Davies' "Stop Your Sobbing" (the A-side). Some of the originals have quite complex rhythmic substructures: I think it was "I Can't Control Myself" which had alternating bars of 4/4 and 7/8 in the verses, attached very confidently by the rhythm section.

Anyway, the theme of this message is See Them Now. Maybe in Northampton tomorrow night (Friday) where the "House Full" notice will doubtless go up early again. But, pretty soon, it won't even be that easy.

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