Chrissie Hynde is one of the very few singers anywhere, from any era, that truly owes the world no explanations. Her name alone in consideration of what she accomplished with The Pretenders is one that for decades has drawn reverie and awe from pundits and professional musicians alike. Hynde may be the living definition of how a woman in rock music can carry herself with confidence and grace. Over her many years, her career was never one beset by desperate sexuality or less than confidant waffling. She always just presented her music with force and power. A fearless presence in the midst of countless others making failed cloying attempts to latch on to the trend of the moment, Hynde instead just performed with conviction, cranking out timeless, seminal songs in the process. The Pretenders as a band has rarely utilized set members since their earliest work, and their latest album Alone was basically Hynde produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach featuring essentially session musicians. Hynde is now gearing up to release a new solo album. This one is titled Valve Bone Woe and comes out on September 6th. That release date would prove to be a bit troublesome for her show tonight headlining The Hollywood Bowl playing with the legendary Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. To put it simply: it’s hard to front-load a show with songs that most of your fans haven’t had a chance to hear yet, especially when they are all either jazz covers or covers done in the style of jazz.
The show opened simply with just the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins. Wilkins led the H.B.O. through a series of playful yet serious Duke Ellington orchestral numbers, “King of the Magi” and “Martin Luther King.” He was then joined by Hynde’s backing band for an instrumental take on John Coltrane’s plaintive “Naima.” Hynde slowly walked out to center stage next and joined the players for three songs from her upcoming Valve Bone Woe album: covers of The Beach Boys’ “Caroline, No,” the Antonio Carlos Jobim/Joao Gilberto number “Once I Loved” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes).” Each was slow and studied, a ruminating take on songs modern audiences would scarcely be aware of. Hynde sang each with careful nuance, ladling out each line with her trademark vibrato. The crowd raced to its feet for the first classic cut of the night, early career hit “Brass in Pocket,” the set instantly teleporting from jazz to rock. Hynde rushed off stage quickly saying only, “We’ll be back!” Apparently, an intermission was needed, though never exactly explained for the audience.
Following the intermission, Hynde, her band the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra returned for another batch of jazzy numbers from her upcoming album. The Jimmy Williams/Larry Harrison staple “How Glad I Am” came first followed by the Johnny Matthis song “Wild is the Wind.” While both were charming and pretty sounding, neither truly captured the spirit that Hynde has perfectly embodied throughout her entire career. That bold and unwavering spirit that her voice invokes, a steady and cathartic emanation, just isn’t served by a calm, soothing tone. She followed those covers with a take on the Bob Merrill/Julia Styne written Barbara Streisand song “Absent Minded Me.” It seemed to be one Hynde was fond of performing having discovered it as a b-side when originally released, but ultimately just cemented how this approach just doesn’t play to her strengths. “Hymn to Her” another Pretenders classic was done with minimum instrumentation, bringing the set back to the mold that so enraptures her fans.
The last six songs of the set–all Pretenders songs–were a slingshot further in that direction. Early career hit “Talk of the Town” brought the set back to a lively energy. Hometown ode “My City Was Gone” bounded forth anchored by its solid bassline while “Message of Love” was pounding new wave skronk allowing for Hynde to frenetically utter numerous lines. One of The Pretenders’ earliest singles “Kid” followed those songs up powerfully, the song eschewing the pretentiousness of the time it was written in for a mirthful, danceable romp. The set ended with three of their biggest hits. First came arguably The Pretenders’ biggest hit, the comforting “Back on the Chain Gang.” That was outdone in decent measure by the equal parts hopeful and whimsical number, “Don’t Get Me Wrong.” The notes here twinkled out like stars while the crowd danced along with elated glee. And last but certainly not least, Hynde ended with the monster of a ballad, “I’ll Stand By You.” Hynde introduced the song confessing that when she wrote it with Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly for the album The Last of the Independents that she thought they were aiming too much for a radio hit. Regardless of the intent, it worked and gave the band one of their longest enduring hits. Here it was a triumphant finale, using the H.B.O. for a swell of instrumentation as the song approached its final reprise and an epic sermon on devotion and commitment.
There’s no question that Hynde might be one of the most important voices in the history of rock and roll, and truly need not apologize to any man, woman or child. What she wants to do, it’s probably wise for us all to take heed and listen. This show though might have benefited simply from bookending this new experiment in jazzy material in between a bevy of The Pretenders’ incredible material, or at least, waiting until fans have had a chance to sit with the new music a while after release.