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Pretenders Day After Day

July 30, 1981 - London, England - Hammersmith Odeon

By Allan Jones

The Pretenders/The Bureau
Hammersmith Palais, Hammersmith Odeon
(Melody Maker / August 8, 1981)

Muscles straining, lungs bursting, pop-eyed and purple faced, Archie stamped his feet, jumped up and down on his monitor and shook a fist at the Palais. "We're not a support band!" he ranted noisily. We're THE BUREAU!"

Actually, they were both.

Didactic, scolding, clumsily aggressive at their worst, the Bureau were as often thrilling, commanding, fiercely persuasive.

Inclined toward blustery melodrama, they need to learn to breathe between onslaughts; too much of their material is presently suffocated by the weight of their arrangements, the dense barrage of horns. Too often, they seemed locked in an internal conflict: this was invariably exciting, but they'd surely achieve a greater impact if they stopped squabbling.

Outmanned and outgunned by the virtually tribal presence of the Bureau, the Pretenders reminded their support band what can actually be achieved when four mutually sympathetic imaginations are locked into the same socket.

By turns flamboyant, delightfully crass, sensitively discreet, the Pretenders negotiate every twist and manoeuvre in the textbook, and then pile on individual flourishes that take them sailing beyond the familiar.

Perfectly balanced, almost insolently assured, they partied with a vengeance at the Palais, turned down the heat a little for the more sober confines of the Odeon. At the Palais, there were occasional lapses in tempo and concentration, but the vibe was on a continual up and no one really cared, lost as most of us were in the heady rock 'n' roll tumult.

Ironically, amid the general informality of the Palais gig, the singular highlight of the Pretenders' set was a new ballad, "Birds of Paradise".

Framed by a gloriously cascading guitar signature from James Honeyman-Scott, "Birds Of Paradise" is one of Chrissie Hynde's finest ever shots. A fugitive love song, full of heartache and poignant eroticism, "Birds of Paradise" swells with enough emotion to pop the buttons of your vest.

Where the atmosphere at the Palais had been described most accurately by the more rumbustious sweep of songs like the new "Louie Louie," the rampant sexual paranoia of "Jealous Dogs" (whose piercing spite brought to mind Neil Young's "Revolution Blues") and the familiar fury of "Tattooed Love Boys" and "Precious," the mood of the Odeon performance was predicted by the steely glint of "The Adultress."

Again, the heart of the group's performance was located in an astonishing central section that began with a deliriously expansive "Talk Of The Town," was carried through the delicate pose of "The English Roses" and "I Go To Sleep" (preferred here to "Birds Of Paradise"), the luscious textures of "Kid," through a new, sensuous arrangement of "Stop Your Sobbing," and into the more brutal contours of "Private Life."

Both gigs climaxed with the Bureau joining the Pretenders for a spirited romp through Jackie Wilson's "Higher And Higher."

As the Bureau horns blew gloriously, and Chrissie swaggered into the final chorus, I swear I felt the earth move.

The Pretenders/The Bureau
Hammersmith Palais, London
By Mike Gardner
(Source: unknown)

No sleep till Hammersmith, eh? Well there was plenty to be had if you could ignore the row.

The Bureau, the outfit of renegades from the camp of Kevin Rowland's Dexy's, came on and trashed Cliff Nobles soul stomper 'The Horse' into the ground. Lead vocalist Archie Brown came on looking every inch an ace face with the merest hint of sleaze. But the crew seemed determined to ruin the soulful stew by playing everything at a frantic breakneck pace.

If there's one thing to be learnt from even the most cursory of listens to the Stax and Atlantic collections, is that soul comes from the dynamic balance of instruments and not the helter skelter tumble that was produced on the night.

Only their first single 'Only For Sheep', an uncalled for encore, was the closest they got to halting the bluster and got on with the business of trying to seduce and inspire the young soul revels rather than battering them into submission.

The Pretenders use much the same technique. Chrissie Hynde, on form, can write songs that can equal those she so openly admires. Songs like 'Kid', 'Private Life', 'Talk Of The Town', and 'Brass In Pocket' are ample evidence of her talent. But when she lacks inspiration, she riffs, she mumbles and hopes that her rock know how will carry her through. On record it's easy to bluff, on the nakedness of the live stage, it's just ugly and boring.

The back up of Pete Farndon on bass, guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and the booming thunder of percussionist Martin Chambers do all they can to turn a sublime combo into a lumbering monster of a rock band.

For all the highlights like Honeyman-Scott's velvet solo on 'Kid' and the superbly slowed version of 'Stop Your Sobbing' there was the thrash of 'Bad Boys Get Spanked, a semi heavy metal jam, or a lifeless 'Tattoo Love Boys'.

Chrissie Hynde's clipped adenoidal vocals skipped too easily from being endearing to plain irritating as the set descended into the rock concert rituals of excess.

I yawned till I laughed. Another one bites the dust.

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