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February 28, Akron, OH - Civic Theatre

by LB

I'd been filled with dread over the impending Akron show ever since tickets went on sale ("you'll be in the last row of the loge..."). The show was to be sponsored by local radio station WONE, who never, and I mean NEVER play the Pretenders. Lots of stale crackers - "Lunatic Fringe" by Red Rider (which they play a bit too often for comfort), Billy Squire, Eddie Money... but no Pretenders.

As the day drew near, that familiar feeling of exhilaration, the rush I get before a Pretenders gig, just never kicked in. This was going to be the third time I'd seen the band on February 28, my 40th Pretenders concert, and it was taking place in Akron, the city I've called home for the last 12 years, so I held on to this foolish hope that something extraordinary would happen.

We were in the fifth row of one of the center sections. The band took the stage and started Samurai. It was haunting and eerily beautiful. When they tore into Legalise Me, we hopped to our feet. Just as quickly, the people behind us started in "Hey! Sit down!" ("Hey, fuck you!")

I can't remember most of the comments Chrissie made - it was a tense time as the people behind us kept yelling and throwing crap at us throughout the entire performance. She told the crowd which performers she'd seen on that very stage, where in Akron she'd been wandering earlier in the day. She asked the band what they'd done. Martin went to Jillian's downtown to play pool. Chrissie replied, "You can do that anywhere. Andy?" Andy said he'd been to Frank's Place (it's a bar a block up the street from the Archives). Chrissie thought for a moment and asked, "Frank's Place... what is that? A bar?" "It's a sports bar," he answered. "A SPORTS BAR?!?!" She shook her head in disgust, "One day in Akron and the band is ruined..."

The band didn't kick ass, they kicked MAJOR ass. Their extra effort to get the audience going was almost tangible. I've never seen them perform with such determination. The performance was flawless, but most of the crowd remained comatose. When they did move, it was to stuff more popcorn or Raisinettes into their mouths. "Hey, this song is cool. Dude, pass me some nachos!" The performance would have been one hell of a movie if it had been such and not a rock concert.

Judging by the whining, the people behind us either needed a nap, a snack, a laxative, or to get laid. For their own well-being, I hope they don't go to so many concerts that they get hemorrhoids.

Towards the end of the show, nearly everyone in the far right section was finally up, singing and dancing, and some audience members on the fringes of our section had been brought to life, but this was all the energy a tired city like Akron could muster up for this spectacular homecoming.

The third and final cup of beer was thrown on me during Popstar, the first song of the first encore. This meant the lethargic bastards behind us were still sitting all the way up until near the very end of the show.

It was difficult to concentrate on the performance. The audience was just about the worst I'd ever seen in my 18 years of Pretenders shows, second only to the one in Atlantic City in the summer of '99. The only thing I can liken it to is the difference between an orgy and masturbation. If you want to whack off alone, that's fine, but please don't ruin the party for the rest of us.

The band rocked, the audience rotted.

Akron, you don't deserve claim to this legend and you won't even know she was one until she's gone.

Here's the set list:

Samurai
Legalise Me
Message of Love
Talk of the Town
Downtown Akron
My City Was Gone
Baby's Breath
Thin Line
Biker
Who's Who
Human
Kid
Chain Gang
Don't Get Me Wrong
Night in My Veins
Roomfull of Mirrors

1st encore:
Popstar
Middle of the Road

2nd encore:
Mystery Achievement
Stop Your Sobbing
Rabo de Nube
Brass in Pocket

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

by Taunia

As Lisa said, there was a feeling that things were fucked from the start. The day tickets went on sale, we dragged our fevered, flu-ridden bodies (yeah, I'm looking for sympathy) to the ticket office and waited so we could be first in line. The ticket gal pulled out the seating chart and, pointing to a row deep within the balcony, said perkily, "You'll be sitting here". I took one look and said, "No, we won't". We'd find better seats somewhere. This was the Pretenders in Akron for chrissakes! The first time Chrissie had ever played in her hometown. A really big deal. But like I said, from the start, things were not hangin' quite right.

Lots of hype in the form of commercials from the radio station promoting the concert, but I never once heard them actually play a Pretenders song. Listening to that particular station is, for me, pure and total hell... Lisa gave you a general idea of their play list... but we did it and the score was zilch for our band. A friend who had spent a whole weekend - the special "Pretenders Weekend" when they gave away tickets - painting her house and listening to this station said she'd heard some ads for the show. But when I asked her which Pretenders songs she'd heard, she said none at all. I queried several other folks on this and got the same response. (By the way, Akron, if you do want to hear the Pretenders on local radio, tune in to the terrific 91.3 WAPS... they even play cuts from Viva which were never released as singles <a story unto itself>... I usually hear the Pretenders on this station several times a week just during my eight-minute drive to or from work.)

We snagged some fifth-row seats a few weeks before the show. (And no, not from a scalper, we don't play that game... and yes, some things do come out sounding self-righteous no matter what: "I don't eat meat." "I don't watch tv.")

Sickness and a few other big, hairy things had forced us to miss the whole first part of this made-to-order tour, the one we'd dubbed "Less Ballads, More Balls". They were playing everything we wanted to hear. We were in tears over missing the Valentine's Day show in San Francisco. We wanted to be excited to death about our show, the great, triumphant, homecoming. But all we could envision was people behind us yelling at us to sit down. This had happened at some other shows in the past, and something told us Akron would be joining the list soon. We hoped we'd be wrong, but the sick feeling remained.

Finally, showtime. The show was sold out. It seemed Akron really wanted their Chrissie.

The band walked out and took up their positions on a dark stage. I'd felt slighted because the usual pre-show excitement had never hit. Then... Samurai, and I was transported to another place. One of my favorites from Viva, but prior to the start of the tour I hadn't considered they would perform this song live. The sweet, haunting strains and moody blue lighting combined with the romantic statuary and stars-and-clouds ceiling to create a dream state. This was heaven.

Legalise Me ripped the gauzy reverie to shreds. Yes! This is what we came for! We were on our feet in a flash. And then the shit began. Let me explain that this, the Pretenders live, is what we wait for. It's the thing that makes it all worthwhile. It's what we do. Other people go to Disneyworld, golf every day of the year, buy season passes for some dumb baseball team, take yearly vacations to exotic, faraway places. We do the Pretenders live. It's the thing we love the most. Don't bother me during a Pretenders show. Don't talk to me... there's nothing you have to say that can't wait till later. This is my downtime. I want to enjoy every single note and every last second. I can't hit the pause button and I can't rewind. It's live, it's now, it's one-of-a-kind. Dig it and do not disturb.

So right off we heard the dreaded, "Sit down!" from directly behind us. Distraction and high stress... someone sitting behind you, eyes boring into your back with annoyance, hatred, disgust. Deep discomfort quickly eclipsed by a consuming anger... what the hell is wrong with these people?? How is it possible to sit still while hearing this music?? Those are real, live people up there on that stage. They receive your energy and respond in kind. It's a reciprocal experience, it's interactive. If you can't grasp the concept, please do the rest of us a favor and stay home, sit on your big, fat couch and watch tv.

I'd seen the group of people bitching immediately behind us file in just before the lights dimmed. Guest passes. Hmm. Perhaps they'd been invited to one show too many and were much too jaded to enjoy this one? I heard one of the guys say to the girl he was with, "You never like anything!" Thanks for coming.

Message of Love was next. "Everybody stand up" works with most audiences, but not this one. Had these people won tickets from the radio station? Only went because they got in free, wouldn't have been there otherwise?

A few songs later we hit Thin Line. Those who stand determinedly in the midst of the angry, seated mob (absurd picture, eh?) know that this slow song spells instant death. At this point I did something I've never (ok, once, in Reno, from near-heatstroke) done before (and will never, ever do again) - I sat (after removing from the seat a now-empty cup of beer that had been lobbed at us). And immediately heard, "Well, at least we'll get a different view now." I felt beaten down and placed the blame on six weeks of illness prior to the show... I must surely be in a weakened condition to behave like such a gutless wonder.

We heard Biker, which is lovely live... Who's Who - for the first time! - we'd been dying for this one... and Human, another huge favorite of mine. And I can't remember much about any of them. I was so mad I just wanted to hurt someone, a funny little feeling for someone who normally avoids confrontation at any cost.

The band played their hearts out. I've been fortunate enough to attend dozens of Pretenders shows (and still can't believe my great luck, landing with them at the same point on the timeline), and I can tell you that this night's performance was one of the very best I have ever seen. Adam, Andy, Chrissie, Martin, Zeb... gold stars all around.

Sadly, the audience was one of the worst.

Then I came to my senses. Got back on my feet and decided they could all go to hell. Beer throwing resumed. Screw you, pal, I'm washable.

More flawless favorites, and then, although I knew to expect it, I couldn't believe my ears. Roomfull of Mirrors! This is sex and religion and everything you worship and fear all rolled into one. I felt faint (the weakened condition again, surely).

Encore number one, encore number two. Good night, Akron.

After the lights came on we were treated to Chrissie's gorgeous version of I Wish You Love. In the light we turned to get a look at our attackers, maybe have a little talk about concert etiquette... but of course those fine gentlemen who'd tossed beer at girls all evening were long gone. I still can't get over the fact that these cretins were slinging beer inside the glorious, historic Civic Theatre. As punishment, I suggest they be dangled from the balcony or locked in the basement to spend the night with the resident ghosts until they see the error of their ways.

There are a couple of places to which we will never return, places where we've experienced similar incidents. But since Akron happens to be smack-dab in the middle of my everyday life, I'll just hope that time will take the edge off the pangs I feel every time I swing past the heart of the city.

"We fall but we keep gettin' up, over and over and over and over and..."

Onward.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

by Nancy Ploeger

When I heard that Chrissie Hynde was taking her band, The Pretenders, home to Akron to play at the Civic Theatre, I had to get tickets. I thought it would be a sold out, thunderous concert with hometown fans really rocking. What excitement! When the Pretenders played for the sold-out crowd at Radio City 2 years ago, the Music Hall rocked with fans who never sat down once. I wanted to feel that same energy again. Walking into the lobby of the historic Civic Theatre, I had high hopes as the fans swarmed into the theatre. But I was sorely disappointed.

I am from New York City where we are a passionate people, never sitting for anything, let alone a rock concert given by the doyen of rock 'n roll. My friends and I had 5th row tickets at the Civic and jumped up as soon as the band came on stage. We were shocked that we were in the minority but did not let that stop us from rocking with the music and showing our love and appreciation for this legendary band, who were playing their hearts out for Chrissie's own Akronites. People yelled at us to sit down and someone even pulled on my shirt saying "Sit down, we'd like to see too." My reply was "This is a rock concert--stand up!" I was promptly accosted with a cup of beer thrown at my back... (nice manners, Akron!). Was it age that kept these people in their setas? A heavy meal from Luigi's? I think not as I am 50 and I had just eaten a fabulous meal from that same restaurant. The fans were loud, no doubt about that. But their inability to get up out of their seats and "take action" is a real reflection of a spiritless people, lacking in drive, determination and lacking in heart! You can sit there and yell all you want but until you stand up and do something about it...

Upon my first night's arrival in Akron--my first visit--I walked the downtown, deserted streets, tired, empty storefront windows looming out at me. Not a shop was open and not a soul around. The only sign of life and happiness was The Peanut Shop. There was a big Mr Peanut in the window and a freshly made sign, "Welcome Chrissie." I can see why Ms Hynde wrote "My City Was Gone." You can build a new baseball stadium, fill the potholes in the streets and restore a beautiful venue like the Civic Theatre but if the people of your city have no passion and just sit on their duffs, you will never revitalize Akron. You need more people like Margie from The Peanut Shop (who, incidentally, went to the concert and probably stood the whole time).

If I were Chrissie Hynde, I'd think again about bringing her band back to Akron. The lifeless people of this city don't deserve a great rock concert performed by a legend, even if she was born here.

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