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Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009

The Pretenders @ The Potawatomi Bingo Casino

Feb. 17, 2009

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It was all there: the raucous punk-meets-countrified twang guitars, the fast-driving drums, the infamous sneer, the standoffish attitude and the amazing songbook of familiar classics that brought the '70s into the '80s and beyond. The Pretenders-in 2009, still the great Pretenders.

And Chrissie Hynde? At 57, she's still got it and then some. Hynde and her four band mates rocked the near-capacity crowd at Potawatomi Bingo Casino in the first night of a two-night stand last Tuesday with a mix of hits and new songs from 2008's Break Up the Concrete.

Looking as young as ever in her trademark jacket with tails, tight jeans and knee-high black boots, Hynde remains the focal point and the only constant in the band since its beginnings in 1978. Since the deaths of original founding members James Honeyman-Scott (guitar) and Pete Farndon (bass) in the early '80s, the band has had a revolving door of musicians, with even founding drummer Martin Chambers booted for a while.

Fortunately, Chambers is back and keeping time with a vengeance as the three new members gave the group a more rockabilly sound. Pedal steel guitar brought a lilting country air to new material like the ballad "Love's a Mystery," the downbeat "The Nothing Maker" and the haunting "One Thing Never Changed."

But the Bo Diddley-style guitar flourishes on the jittery up-tempo opener, "Boots of Chinese Plastic," and the bluesy shimmer of "Rosalee" kept the crowd moving throughout the all-too-brief 80-minute set.
"This is a song for all the gentleman in the house," Hynde said, pausing and adding, "if there are any." The taut, punkish sounds of "Don't Cut Your Hair" ensued, proving that The Pretenders don't need to rely on the nostalgia of past hits to recreate that same level of raw power.

The addition of the younger members, guitarist James Walbourne and bassist Nick Wilkinson, brought some youthful exuberance back to the band. Walbourne's extended guitar solo on "Rosalee" was a highlight of the evening, as was his clipped, upbeat approach to the early hit "Brass in Pocket."

But it's still Hynde's show, spotlight and all. And after all this time, The Pretenders remain the real thing.

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