Monday, December 8, 2014

Chrissie Hynde, The Rails concert review: Hollywood, Calif.

photo by Armando Brown
My review originally appeared at

Chrissie Hynde doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

Since forming the Pretenders in 1978, the singer/guitarist/activist has never been afraid to speak her mind. That was obvious during a spirited tour-ending Hollywood show Saturday night as fans were asked to refrain from taking cellphone photos via signs, ushers and public announcements.

Hynde and her four-piece band (including lead guitarist James Walbourne and bassist Nick Wilkinson, both latter-day Pretenders) took the stage to golden oldie “The Great Pretender” and kicked off the 90-minute concert with a tender “Don’t Lose Faith in Me.” Immediately, someone in the crowd started snapping away. Hynde paused and threatened to walk out if the pics didn’t stop. Definitely a mood killer.

The 23-song set touched on all but one Pretenders disc as well as most of “Stockholm” – Hynde’s first official solo album, released last summer.

Recorded in Sweden with native studio musicians, the shrewd and expansive pop-leaning rock effort was produced and co-written by Björn Yttling (Peter, Bjorn and John). Neil Young and tennis legend John McEnroe (a longtime Hynde friend) made guest guitar contributions.

At the Pantages, Hynde’s quavering voice possessed a richer tone than usual during the domestic-abuse ballad “977” (she gave up smoking a year ago). Then a cellphone went up and the song was abruptly halted for another admonishment. All momentum was lost. Thankfully, most concertgoers eventually got the message.

All the new material was well-received. Amid the negative interruptions, there were song dedications to friends like actress Rosanna Arquette (the enchanting single “You or No One”), pleasantries about being back in L.A., a recollection about Frank Zappa and an invitation for grandmas to dance.

Before the lean and mean “Down the Wrong Way,” she mentioned Young and acted as if the rock legend were around to reprise his studio role. Instead, Walbourne spastically replicated the Crazy Horse-style guitar crunch. As he played one expressive solo after another on songs his boss called “nostalgia for the old folks,” Hynde was often seen right by his side watching in awe.

Selections from the Pretenders’ classic 1979 self-titled debut LP, like a still-raucous “The Phone Call” and the jagged corker “Precious,” went down a storm. The same held true for solid takes on hits such as “Don’t Get Me Wrong” and “Back on the Chain Gang,” and a smoking double ode to her home town of Akron, Ohio (“My City Was Gone,” “Downtown”).

Finally relenting to fan photos for the encore “Tattooed Love Boys,” Hynde came to regret it when nobody stopped. Next, a female enthusiast ambled onstage and was dragged off by security. The band capped the evening with a sparse version of the Pretenders’ ’83 Christmas perennial “2000 Miles.”
photo by Armando Brown
In addition to serving as an adjunct member of the Pretenders, Walbourne's credits also include work with the Pogues and Son Volt.
Here, he pulled double duty as an opening act as part of The Rails, a duo with his wife, Kami Thompson (daughter of folk legend Richard).
The English musicians' highly impressive acoustic half-hour set was composed of songs from their terrific debut album, “Fair Warning,” due out in January. Co-produced by Edwyn Collins, with Eliza Carthy on fiddle, the Celtic-tinged songs and traditional-styled sea shanties could easily be up for some Americana Awards next year. 

(The pair can also be heard on "Family," the solid new album by the Thompson Family - Kami, Richard, Linda and Teddy.)
As for the Pantages gig, the Rails' seamless harmonies shone brightest during a captivating "Send Her to Holloway" (inspired by a jail near their home), subdued title track, the tension-filled "Panic Attack Blues" (where Walbourne spotlighted his fast picking blues chops) and sweet closer "Habit," which drew a standing ovation from most of the audience.
Setlist: Chrissie Hynde at the Pantages
Don’t Lose Faith in Me/Biker/977/In a Miracle/Like in the Movies/Talk of the Town/Kid/Sweet Nuthin’/You or No One/Down the Wrong Way/A Plan Too Far/My City Was Gone/Downtown (Akron)/The Phone Call/Night in My Veins/Don’t Get Me Wrong/Back on the Chain Gang/Adding the Blue
Encore 1: I Go to Sleep/Precious
Encore 2: Tattooed Love Boys/Dark Sunglasses/2000 Miles

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