The Pretenders

Cambridge Corn Exchange

Saturday 7th October 2017

Wow, this doesn’t happen very often, the chance to show my street cred – best end that fantasy right there. Even when I bought their debut album some thirty odd years ago I was lacking in any sort of credibility, so now that I have your sympathy I hope you’ll read this review sympathetically.

The pleasure or the pain of this type of gig is that there is usually a support act, I’ve often wondered how these are chosen – The manager’s girlfriend’s cousin playing the spoons and juggling ferrets? Maybe the drummer’s landlord with his twenty minute trombone solos? But, in this case, the choice is a whole lot easier for The Pretenders lead guitarist James Walbourne has his own band, The Rails, in conjunction with his partner Kami Thompson, and it is they who are the support act.

In my view they are a pleasure and a pain, a curate’s egg if you will, for they have the quintessential rock band line up of drums, bass and two guitars but when they try to be a rock band they sound perfunctory at best. However when they become Gram Parsons with a social conscience they are far, far better and much more compelling and I, for one, hope that is the furrow they continue to plough. Although, I guess, those songs may not be best suited to a support slot with one of the most famous rock bands on the planet.

But we’ve waited long enough for the headliners so let’s get on with it – No grand entrance, the lights go down, the lights come up and there they are kicking off with “Alone“, the title track of the latest album,  which, if the recent BBC4 documentary is anything to go by, is indicative of Chrissie Hynde’s current state of mind, also from that album came “Let’s Get Lost” a song of yearning that brought back many an adolescent  memory of that boy buying their debut album.

There are no thrills with The Pretenders, they are a rock band with a stadium load of big songs which they deliver with verve, panache and no little style, and come the big songs did – “Back on the Chain Gang“, “Talk of the Town”, “Night in my Veins“, a spine tingling “Hymn to Her” and “Don’t Get Me Wrong“.  I could go on with the list of great songs, may be more later, but  the night belonged to Chrissie Hynde – in great voice, very engaging and seemingly at ease with the current line up she strode the stage as if born to it, and it doesn’t really need saying but I will, the rest of the band were fab and I really enjoyed it.

Yes there were more great songs, “Stop your Sobbing”, I’ll Stand by You”, “Kid” dedicated to Pete Farndon and James Honeyman-Scott, both, departed members of the original band and, finally, you’ve guessed it, their biggest song “Brass in Pocket”. All rapturously received by those in the auditorium and, if they weren’t already standing, a standing ovation would have been in order.

Nonetheless, all flippancy aside, it has to be said that The Pretenders are a much better live band than I had previously thought they would be, another preconception smashed and I’d love to see them again.