Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Pretenders • Live In London

Recorded in her adopted ex-hometown last year, the live album/film Live in London is a very exciting Pretenders program. I'll review this as a live album first and then close with what I thought of it as a film, since I bought this in the CD section of the store.

First off, I'll be damned if I can figure out what London venue this was recorded at. [Turns out, when you watch the video, you can see it's the Empire.] But it's a great sounding concert with a real nice set list, including the right ratio of older classics with newer ones. Secondly, Chrissie Hynde employs a very capable lineup here, including original Pretenders drummer Martin Chambers—he of the swooping, razor-sharp sideburns—and lead guitarist James Walbourne and bassist Nick Wilkinson. The secret weapon, though, is a chap on pedal steel guitar called Eric Heywood. One of the original members of Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods*, Eric lends an ethereally cool vibe to the songs, sounding like something somewhere between an organ and a guitar depending on what he's doing. He sounds especially fitting on the newer ones, like "Don't Cut Your Hair" and "Love's a Mystery," but even on "Talk of the Town" and "Message of Love" (from the video) it's not a problem. Keep in mind, naysayers, that the Flying Burrito Bros. albums contained no electric guitar—all that fuzz and "rhythm" guitar was provided by steel player Sneeky Pete Kleinow. Martin Chambers plays and looks about the same, very solid drumming and very stylish sidies!

Okay, so how does Chrissie sound? Like not a day has passed since she and Chambers, James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon walked into the studio to cut Pretenders with Chris Thomas in 1979. Her singing's as tough 'n' sweet as it's ever been, she can still hit the notes, and her attitude is just as "beneath that gruff exterior lies a tender heart" as it ever was. She's crackin' jokes and pickin' notes like it's the only thing that matters in this world.

Film-wise, Live in London is real nice to look at. No fancy sweeping crane shots, as filmmakers Pierre & Francois Lamoureux point out in the notes, no crazy digital dissolves or stupid graphics sliding across the screen. Though it is indeed a multi-camera shoot, it's not hampered by modern excesses. Which is good, because although the stage is a little cleaner than one would expect from ex-punk/new wavers—and the venue bigger than your typical Dingwalls dump—it's no arena or stadium. I only wish I had been this close when I saw them in '82 at the Seattle Center Arena. Good job, Frenchies!

Make sure you pick up the combination CD/DVD version of this to get the full presentation, unless you're gonna buy the Blu-Ray movie, in which case the regular CD should work fine for ya.
4/5 (E1 Music) (* Not really. He's from Iowa. He's probably never even heard "Billy Don't Be a Hero.")

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