The Pretenders Bring Too Much Twang to Dodge

You'd be hard-pressed to find a better-preserved 57-year-old rock star than Chrissie Hynde. Onstage at Dodge Theatre Wednesday night, the Pretenders frontwoman looked incredible and sounded exactly as she did 30 years ago, when the band recorded their eponymous debut. Really. Her distinctive voice -- a raspy coo that's been described as a switchblade with a pearl handle -- still has every note it once did. Maybe there's something to that vegetarian thing after all.

Unfortunately, for a lot of reasons, last night's show didn't quite pack the punch I picture a Pretenders show having back in the band's heyday.

First, I'll just get this out there: The band should have played "I'll Stand By You." The 1994 single is one of the band's biggest hits, and arguably Hynde's signature song. When the house lights came on without the band playing it, I was pretty disappointed.

OK, now on to the rest of the show.

Taking the stage to "On the Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady, the band opened with "Boots of Chinese Plastic" the first track on their new record Break Up the Concrete. Things really got moving during "Talk of the Town" from their second record. "Don't Lose Faith in Me," one of the strongest cuts from Concrete followed closely. Throughout, Hynde's voice sounded absolutely ageless.

Having a pedal steel player on stage seemed like a fun novelty at first, until it became obvious he was going to play on each and every song, without moving an inch. Going country is a great way to age gracefully, but seeing a band that emerged from the punk scene retool almost all their old hits to accommodate wisps of the country instrument seemed a little forced. On tracks from the new album though, it worked quite well, for example of "Love's a Mystery," one of the highlights of the night.

Likewise, I was impressed by "The Last Ride," a song Hynde penned while meditating in the Akron, Ohio cemetery where Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Dr. Bob is buried when a group of bikers came through to pay their respects.

The rest of the show was up and down, as the band alternated between their 30-year-old hits ("Stop Your Sobbing," "Back on the Chain Gang," and "Brass in Pocket") and brand-new material (worst new song: "Rosalee"). The new record's title track, which closed the main set, was described by my companion Dawn as sounding like a Jimmy Buffett song, and I couldn't disagree.

A rocked-out version of "Precious" was stellar -- in four-inch heeled, knee-high boots, Hynde carried the punk anthem well -- and the highlight of the double encore.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: The Pretenders at Dodge Theatre

Better Than: The reunited Blondie.

Personal Bias: Hailing from Akron, Ohio, I'll always have a softspot for Hynde.

Random Detail: It was a very, very old crowd. Probably even older than what I saw at the Dodge's Willie Nelson show, on average. Old people always have funny stories from the glory days to tell, like the guy I heard talking about pissing in a sink at an especially crowded Dead show.

Further Listening: "I'll Stand By You." Grrrr.

By The Way: I especially dug seeing a couple of people repping Akron around the theater, including one guy in a shirt from my alma mater, the University of Akron. Chrissie is, of course, a Kent State Golden Flash, which is unfortunate for her if she's a fan of pretty much any intercollegiate sport.

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