- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 8, 2003

"Very awesome," exclaimed a fan in a see-through top exiting the balcony after the sold-out Pretenders show at the 9:30 Club Jan. 31. But awesome is exactly what the late-model Chrissie Hynde is not very despite the fan in that mesh top that, like her command of language, might have been less disappointing had it belonged to a younger Pretenders fan.
No, the capricious deities of the Greek classics were very awesome; Chrissie Hynde has ripened into a classic.
In true rock-legend form, the 51-year-old Miss Hynde has left in her wake a trail of dead bodies and failed marriages.
Two founding members of the Pretenders, the now-rejuvenated band Miss Hynde has fronted since the late 1970s, died of drug overdoses.
There were stormy relationships with and offspring by Ray Davies of the Kinks and Jim Kerr of the Simple Minds.
Lately, the 51-year-old is shaking off a divorce from her second husband, Lucho Brieva, a Colombian sculptor more than 10 years her junior.
No wonder the Rolling Stones tapped the Pretenders to open for them last fall: They wanted to compare notes.
Now the band is headlining its own tour in support of its latest CD, "Loose Screw" which brought the group to town for the Jan. 31 show, which was stuffed to the gills with longtime fans and younger converts.
Looking like younger converts but turning out to be young proselytizers were a couple of representatives of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, one of Miss Hynde's favorite nonprofits.
Miss Hynde's current band mates look more like former dot-com techies than the insolent bad-boy Brits with whom she first soared to fame in 1979.
Filling the crucial role of James Honeyman-Scott, the innovative lead guitarist who overdosed in 1982, is Adam Seymour, a Pretender since 1994, when the band resurfaced with the tender torch ballad "I'll Stand by You."
The very muscular Martin Chambers, the original Pretenders drummer who fell out with Miss Hynde in the '80s and rejoined the band for 1994's "Last of the Independents" album, was caged in a tall, unsightly acrylic sound shield.
"I can't do it anymore," Mr. Chambers lamented after flubbing repeatedly a stunt in which he tries to bounce a drumstick into the air and catch it before it lands. It hardly mattered at his age, the sticks don't always perform on command, and they do have drugs for that now. Besides, the Pretenders' show isn't about stunts. The one concession to spectacle was an interlude of sweeping white spotlights that had the side effect of illuminating the dorks in the front row lip-syncing every word of every song.
Bassist Andy Hobson and keyboardist Zeb Jameson rounded out the five-piece lineup.
Classics seem mature and inevitable when they are new, and still fresh and vital when they have ceased to be new. That's Chrissie Hynde, whether it's her look white Telecaster slung across her hips, bluejeans, black mascara and bangs or her songs, those gems whose melodicism is all the more startlingly beautiful because the vocals are so deceptively conversational.
Miss Hynde, player, writer, singer, led the way for female artists such as Liz Phair and Sheryl Crow and they still haven't caught up.
She cut her attitudinal teeth on the adolescent posturing of late-'70s British punk, but the Akron, Ohio-born Miss Hynde was pushing 30 by the time she burst onto the rock scene in England with the Pretenders' hit cover version of Mr. Davies' "Stop Your Sobbing." This may be part of the reason why your current self isn't embarrassed by how much your younger self loved that string of radio hits she wrote and recorded in the '80s.
She played most of them at the 9:30 Club "Message of Love," "Middle of the Road," "Don't Get Me Wrong," "Back on the Chain Gang" and "My City Was Gone," her nostalgic rant about how they paved paradise and put up Akron, Ohio. (It features the famous walking bass line that Rush Limbaugh annexed for his radio show. The theft must drive Miss Hynde, whom nobody has ever accused of being a "dittohead," batty.) The band closed a second encore with its breakthrough U.S. hit, 1980's "Brass in Pocket."
A catalog of songs like that it's enough to reduce anybody to a dork lip-syncing every word of every song.
I'm no animal rights militant, but I'll tell you this: If they have Chrissie Hynde on their side those chinchillas must be doing something right.

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