Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

The Three Faces of Eve

September 05, 2009

The current Pretenders - Martin Chambers, Chrissie Hynde, Nick Wilkinson, Eric Heywood, and James Walbourne

It’s a traditionally slow Labor Day weekend and I’ll be the first to admit the schedule has been spotty lately. The only live performance I took in all last week was a concert headlined by The Pretenders last week at L.A.’s Greek Theater. It was a lukewarm affair at probably only 65-70% capacity for a show that additionally featured Juliette Lewis and Cat Power. I hope that the audience size speaks more to the economy than that this is still sadly an oddity in popular music, a rock concert with three acts headed by women. First up was Lewis who is on her second band since steering her career away from acting and headlong into music. Though based on Thursday’s opening set, she may not have been as far from a theatrical performance as one might have thought. Dressed in glittery spandex that would have made 70s Bowie proud, she wailed through a set that suggested she was certainly playing the role of a rock star if not in fact actually being one. Pitch was not her thing, but it was a blissfully short engagement before moving on to the second course.

Out of place in perhaps the most opposite way, Cat Power appeared next with Dirty Delta Blues backing her up. It was a spare, quiet, and highly introspective bluesy set that was equally beautiful and rather mysterious. Chan Marshall often hid behind the other members of the band and only rarely faced the audience while the band played in the sparsest of light. With only minimal colored backlights, the band played almost entirely in the dark. It was a moody and stirring performance perhaps marred only by its being performed in probably the most inappropriate venue. The outdoor summertime crowd had come to rock, or something like it, and clearly were uncomfortable with such a quiet, introspective precursor to the main attraction. Which is a shame considering they bordered on the sublime.

Then there was the matter of this year’s model of The Pretenders. Chrissie Hynde is back this time with Martin Chambers in support of their most recent recording Break Up the Concrete. The show was what you’d expect. Many of the hits with a few new tracks thrown in. None of the old hits sounded quite as tight as you may have remembered them, but the new material was also stronger than what you might think. Hynde is the star, though, and she delivers a number of satisfying things. First is a voice that is in remarkable shape and at times sounded to me like it could just have easily been 25 years ago. Beyond that, though, is her rock-star posturing and attitude. The Pretenders may have always been more of a pop outfit than some critics would have liked, but Hynde has a big mouth and isn’t afraid to open it. Which is something to be admired. So in the end, the show was a draw, but not without its moments.

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