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POP MUSIC REVIEW

The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde unleashes the old chain gang

Playing the Greek, the iconic rocker overshadows weaker sister rockers Cat Power and Juliette Lewis, pounding out older hits as well as cuts off her newest album.

September 05, 2009|Mikael Wood

It was difficult to tell Thursday night at the Greek Theatre where there were more women wearing their dark-brown bangs in their eyes -- onstage or in the audience?

The occasion was the final date of one of the summer's more unlikely tours, a female-fronted triple bill featuring the Pretenders, Cat Power and Juliette Lewis. Not much unites these acts beyond the guitar and a common haircut, but apparently that was enough to foster a sense of family on the road.

As Lewis put it near the end of her opening set, "It's been an absolute lovefest out here."

Fronting a five-piece version of the Pretenders that included only one other original member of the band, Chrissie Hynde didn't let all that love soften her trademark bite. "You don't wanna marry me," she told one fan who'd shouted his proposal after the band's performance of "Back on the Chain Gang." Then she pointed to drummer Martin Chambers. "I've been with him for 30 years and look at the state he's in."

Hynde released a strong new Pretenders album last year called "Break Up the Concrete," and Thursday she devoted a sizable portion of the band's 90-minute set to its rough-hewn rockabilly charms.

In "Boots of Chinese Plastic" she spit out lyrics about "religion, money, sex -- all the things you're not supposed to talk about at dinner parties," as she said before revving up the song's Sun Studio beat. For "The Last Ride," a tender tribute to Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bob Smith, the band went folky, with Hynde on acoustic guitar and James Walbourne on mandolin.

Of course, even the most respectful fans showed up to hear the Pretenders' hits, which Hynde seemed happy delivering along with some good-natured jokes regarding her heritage-rock status. "This one's for your dad," she told one young woman near the stage before "Chain Gang." Later, she dedicated "Kid" to her late bandmates James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon. "Fellas, get the kettle on," she said. "We're on our way."

The older material sounded taut and to-the-point; not unlike Hynde herself, who took the Greek's stage in tight jeans and thigh-high velvet boots, "Don't Get Me Wrong" and "Talk of the Town" have acquired very little excess weight over the years. New Wave nostalgia perfumed the air, but it didn't overpower the singer's contemporary cool.

Cat Power's Chan Marshall worked a similar sangfroid in her hourlong set, shuffling around the stage as her four-piece band churned out a drowsy brand of ambient blues.

Unfortunately, she offered little substance to match her style.

Since 2000's aptly titled "The Covers Record," Marshall has complemented collections of her own art-soul songs with a string of releases on which she performs radically reworked versions of other artists' tunes. On record the effect can be hypnotic, but at the Greek, where she sang the lyrics (if not the melodies) of "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones and "The Dark End of the Street," the result was slumber-inducing.

Wearing a single-sleeved leotard tucked into sparkly red hot pants, Lewis opened Thursday's show with a half-hour blast of amateurish garage punk. The "Natural Born Killers" actress has a voice that isn't without character, yet she seemed reluctant to let her music speak for itself, launching a constant barrage of goofy spoken asides and proudly deranged dance moves.

"You all think you're watching television, don't you?" Lewis asked at one point, baiting the crowd into a bit of audience participation. She couldn't really blame us.

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calendar@latimes.com

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