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September 2 - Chicago, IL - New World Music Theater

by Kevin Caulfield

Loner/Money Talk/Talk Of The Town/Kid/I Go To Sleep/Popstar/My City Was Gone/Back On The Chain Gang/Night In My Veins/Middle Of The Road/Needle And The Damage Done

I've been a Pretenders fan for a long time. But I live in Australia, and they haven't played there since 1987. So it's 13 years since I've seen Chrissie, 16 years since I've seen Martin, and I'm yet to see Adam and Andy live in concert.

So finally here I am at Tinley Park World Music Theatre, southwest of Chicago, and the Pretenders are about to play. It's been a hot and humid day in the windy city and the moon is in the sky. Shortly after 7.30 p.m. the band sashay onto the stage, so casual. It's a sell-out, and the venue is by no means full yet, but there is a buzz.

And then they start with Loner, in tribute to Neil Young. Simple yet powerful. And how full and rich is the sound, something I haven't heard since 1982. The crowd reponds in appreciation, and there suddenly seems to be more urgency in finding a seat.

When the band launch into Money Talk, it is obvious that they mean business. Chrissie then greets the audience, kissing the stage on which Neil Young is about to play, suggesting that the Pretenders are almost becoming a resident Chicago band, and the show continues.

Talk Of The Town is majestic as ever. Then the usual tribute is paid to Jim and Pete prior to Kid, at which point I am asked to sit down by an attendant, which I refuse. She doesn't respond to my suggestion that rather than tell me to sit so that people don't get hit by the debris thrown at me, maybe she should stop people from throwing it in the first place.

And then an absolute highlight, a treasure - I Go To Sleep. Adam's chiming guitar contrasts beautifully with Chrissie's voice, which, hard to believe, sounds better than ever.

The rockier stuff returns with Popstar, Martin providing an extended introduction, and the band members being presented. It seems a long way to come from Brighton in the south of England for percussionist "Wiff" Smith just to play rhythm sticks and maracas, but it complements the main line-up perfectly, from the simple sticks in Loner to the maracas (miked up by Chrissie) in Popstar. And I didn't realise Chrissie was such a great harmonica player.

Then Chrissie plays to the audience with her dancing in My City Was Gone, before Adam blows them away with a soaring solo. Even as I write "awesome guitar solo" in my notebook, he launches into another even more brilliant break - this guy knows how to play.

Back On The Chain Gang really captures the audience, followed by another hard rocker, Night In My Veins, a gem. Middle Of The Road is a real crowd-pleaser.

And then the band exit, already. But they quickly return, with another Neil Young tribute, Needle And The Damage Done, truly stunning. I don't need to see Neil Young - I came to see the Pretenders.

Martin is back - he should never have been gone. And it's great to see the logo drum again. Andy slots in neatly, an accomplished player, the epitome of cool. Adam, well he can play a bit. Chrissie, I never thought I could say this, is better than ever, both vocally and on guitar. Adam seems to be bringing out the best in her. And they're enjoying each other's company. They leave the stage, the world's most interesting drummer hopping with both arms outstretched.

That Saturday morning I saw some great art in the Art Institute of Chicago, by Renoir, Picasso, Dali and others. But the best art I experienced that day was performed at Tinley Park by the Pretenders, art that rocks. They're back!

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