Austin City Limits was thrilled to kick off our 43rd taping season with the legendary rock & roll band The Pretenders, streamed live around the world. Led, as always, by singer/songwriter/guitarist Chrissie Hynde, the band blazed through a catalog packed with hits and favorites, stopping along the way to sample the group’s latest LP Alone as well.
In that vein, the Pretenders opened the show with the rollicking title track, guitarist James Walbourne and steel player Eric Heywood trading licks like Keith Richards and Ron Wood, and Hynde singing the paean to singlehood with confident swagger. Hynde donned her trademark Telecaster for the pounding “Gotta Wait,” original drummer Martin Chambers bashing his kit like a jackhammer. His shift to a glam rock beat signaled the first classic, as Hynde led the band into the indelible rocker “Message of Love,” from the band’s second record II. “You don’t have to be polite, as we don’t plan to be,” she asserted. Then it was into the dub reggae-flavored “Private Life,” another hit and one that highlighted how good her voice still sounds, nearly 40 years into her career. The band then dipped into Stockholm, Hynde’s 2014 solo album, recasting “Down the Wrong Way” as a Pretenderized rocker. Rhythm section Chambers and bassist Nick Wilkinson then took a break, as Hynde crooned Meg Keene’s lovely ballad “Hymn to Her,” recorded for the Pretenders’ fourth album Get Close.
Reclaiming her Telecaster, Hynde hit the instantly recognizable chord of “Talk of the Town,” bringing the audience to their feet. They stayed there for that other rhythm guitar-centered hit, “Back On the Chain Gang” – both songs proven, timeless classics. The group ventured back into ballad territory with “I’ll Stand By You,” the top 20 hit from the mid-90s’ Last of the Independents that really showcases Hynde’s spectacular singing. She then lightened the mood, asking “Do you feel like dancing?” before the sprightly pop song “Don’t Get Me Wrong.” To the crowd’s delight, the band reached all the way back to 1979 for “Stop Your Sobbing,” the Kinks cover that served as the first Pretenders single. After commenting on the group’s time in Austin, including a shout-out to longtime Austin music fixtures Charlie Sexton and Willie Nelson, Hynde led them into the loping, bass-driven fan favorite “My City Was Gone.” The Pretenders then extracted a truly deep cut from its self-titled first LP, rolling through the shoulda-been-hit “Mystery Achievement,” before closing out the main set with a pulse-pounding rip through the hit “Middle of the Road” that left the audience on fire.
For the encore, the band returned to the latest album Alone with the shimmering “Let’s Get Lost” and subtly defiant “I Hate Myself.” Then it was back to rocking with “Up the Neck,” an unheralded blaster from the band’s first album. Speaking of which, the band went back for the only song that could end a set this hit-packed: “Brass in Pocket,” the early single that marked the Pretenders as a major band in three minutes. Hynde encouraged the audience to come to the lip of the stage, even bringing a member onstage to serenade. The crowd went as wild as one might expect, the band quitting the stage to rapturous applause. It was a great set, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs this fall on your local PBS station.