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June 22 - Hockenheim, Germany - Hockenheimring

by Andreas Volkert

The Pretenders in Hockenheim (Germany)
venue: Hockenheimring/Motodrom (speedway)
Sunday, June 22, 2003
(opening for AC/DC and The Rolling Stones)

Setlist: 0. Space Invader (from tape)
1. Message Of Love
2. My Baby
3. Talk Of The Town
4. You Know Who Your Friends Are
5. I'll Stand By You
6. Room Full Of Mirrors
7. Night In My Veins
8. Bad Boys Get Spanked
9. Middle Of The Road

The Pretenders 5.10 - 5.45 PM
AC/DC 6.20 - 7.55 PM
The Rolling Stones 8.40 - 10.55 PM

On their recent "40 Licks" swing through Germany The Rolling Stones shared the bill with AC/DC at three field shows. At Leipzig (June 20) and at Hockenheim The Pretenders - billed as "also appearing" - were added to the line-up of bands.

After habouring doubts for several weeks about seeing The Pretenders as an opening act in a huge field I decided to go and see them at the last minute. I'm glad I did, because it turned out to be a perfect, beautiful day. I arrived at the provincial town of Hockenheim in the Mannheim/Frankfurt area of Germany at 2 PM and walked through the small town to the venue, the famous Hockenheimring. At about 3 PM I found myself in the crowd close to the stage. The gigantic stage, which looked like a gothic battleship/spaceship hybrid had been set up right on the actual racetrack and the surrounding field in front of the main stands. When The Pretenders kicked off the proceedings the place already looked pretty much packed. Later for the Stones' show only a few empty seats remained in the stands. The official size of the crowd given by German media was 65.000 although some Stones watchers put the actual number at 75.000.

Most people were there of course to either see the Stones or AC/DC. I even saw one guy dressed up as Angus Young (complete with lovingly crafted cardboard guitar!). The Australian hard-rockers have always had a huge following in Germany. It was sunny and very hot all day, everybody was there to have a good time, the event was extremely well organized.

The first thing I noticed when I looked up at the stage after having arrived was The Pretenders' equipment, already set up, Martin's drum kit with the classic black and white Pretenders logo on the bass drum sitting proudly in the center of it all. Large screens on either side of the stage later showed live pictures of the show.

5 PM and the holy grail is brought on stage - Chrissie's Telecaster. A dark red one with silver pick guard this time.

5.10 PM "Space Invader" is played over the PA and Chrissie followed by the guys appears stage left. The moment she hits the stage, dressed in black T-Shirt and blue jeans, wearing orange/brownish-tinted shades, all doubts about seeing The Pretenders as an opening act in a hot and dusty field are blown away. Chrissie greets the town of Hockenheim and the crowd and then ... "This is our 'Message Of Love'." Chrissie still pronounces the words "Brigitte Bardot" in that song like no one else and that plus the crunching guitars evoke images of the French Riveira, Godard's movie "Contempt" (starring Brigitte Bardot), Jeff Beck and The Stooges put in a blender in the Mid-West.

Next up "My Baby". Not one of my favourites, but made interesting by a heavier and less "pretty" treatment. During the song Chrissie, Andy and Adam encourage the crowd to clap along. Chrissie even tells us to flip out in funny German: "Flipp aus!" After the song Frau Hynde wishes us "Schoenen Abend!" (a good evening) and then adds "This is 'The Talk Of The Town'!" It's played in the usual way and is as great as it has always been.

Chrissie then dedicates "You Know Who Your Friends Are" "to our friend Mick, who's standing in the wings. He asked me to play this song especially for him." The song is also the current single in Europe, where "Loose Screw" has just been released. Chrissie makes sure the crowd gets the picture of what's been left "along by the canal" by mimicking a junkie shooting up. Adam plays a great solo on this one. As good as the song is on the new album, it really comes to life on stage. Let's hope the anticipated Live-DVD materializes.

The opening notes of "I'll Stand By You" are greeted by a cheer from the crowd, who otherwise seem to be unfamiliar with The Pretenders' material. Before the show people around where I stood were unable to name a Pretenders tune (sigh). Chrissie has taken off her guitar, moves around a bit, delivering a heartfelt vocal and underlining the chorus with a military-style salute twice. Midway through the song she gets her guitar back and bolsters the sound with thrashing power chords.

Next up a big, big surprise "a song by Jimi Hendrix": "Room Full Of Mirrors". A majestic performance, perfect for the occasion, Chrissie's voice shining bright and clear. Now, The Pretenders' version of this song has always meant a lot to me. When I was seventeen years old I saw the band play this song live on German television. At one point during that TV-performance Chrissie put her microphone on the ground, knelt down, leaned towards the microphone and screamed her head off while beating the stage with her hands. I had never seen anything like that before!

Jimi sure wrote the song but The Pretenders made it their own and now Adam - without copying Jimi Hendrix, but by injecting his own ideas - kicks the song into orbit. The Stones' massive PA allows for a menacing effect, a wall of sound hitting you, metallic noise and big chunks of deep bass notes coming at you like a primal force that cannot be contained. After that Chrissie says "Thank you Jimi!" and again in German: "Wie geht es ihnen?" (How are you?) and "We're trying up here!"

"Night In My Veins" follows, another good choice of song. Chrissie changes the chorus to "a spike in my veins" twice.

She then announces "this is a song for all the bikers out there" and pretends to ride a bike standing at the edge of the stage. It's "Bad Boys Get Spanked" and Chrissie's voice slashes through your conscience like a biker's flick knife through a vinyl seat in the movie "The Loveless" (from 1981, the best biker movie EVER, starring Willem Dafoe in one of his first roles). "Bad Boys" could be Willem Dafoe's theme song in that film, in which he and the guys he runs with are on their way to the motorcycle races in Florida "to watch 'em haul down in Daytona!" Chrissie busts a string on her guitar on this song and is handed another Telecaster as a replacement. It's a gold one and she keeps it for the rest of the set.

Before "Middle Of The Road" Chrissie douses Martin's drum kit with water from a plastic bottle and he kicks off the last song of the set. Chrissie plays some great harmonica, which she takes from a tray on a stand close to her microphone stand. After the song Martin throws his drumsticks into the crowd, a short "Good night!" from Chrissie who also tells us to enjoy AC/DC, who are up next, and they disappear to the left side of the stage. A short but intense set with a great selection of songs. Somehow being an opening act and having to deliver within a short period of time forces the band to tighten things up and pace the set accordingly, which isn't such a bad thing. There wasn't a weak moment in the performance. Everybody was "on" all of the time. Chrissie's singing was exceptional. You never had the feeling they were treating this as "only" an opening spot. It was like a regular, true Pretenders show. Only (much) shorter.

AC/DC played 12 songs plus a 2 song encore. They played all the hits (Back In Black, The Jack, TNT, Whole Lotta Rosie, Hell's Bells, Highway To Hell, You Shook Me All Night Long, Dirty Deeds, Bad Boy Boogie complete with Angus' "strip", Thunderstruck etc.). They mean a lot to a lot of people in Germany, the fans were happy. It's hard not to love Angus Young. He and his brother Malcolm returned later to play "Rock Me Baby" with the Stones. At the Leipzig show two days earlier Chrissie had done "Honky Tonk Women" with the Stones during their set, sadly this was not repeated at Hockenheim.

The Stones played one of their typical stadium shows (20 songs). Highlights: "You Got Me Rocking", "Angie", Keith singing "Slipping Away" and "You Don't Have To Mean It", the three-song, stripped down set on the "B-Stage" in the middle of the field that the band reaches via a special ramp and the one-song encore of "Jumping Jack Flash". It must mean a lot to Chrissie to be able to tour with the guys she saw as a teenager in Cleveland. She seemed to really enjoy it. One local paper in a fair and neutral report called The Pretenders the best band of the evening, because of the fact that their performance was not preoccupied with delivering and upholding an image that people have of the band. Instead they just concentrated on playing great music.

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