“For us, this is just another gig,” said Pretenders’ lead vocalist Chrissie Hynde Monday night at the first taping of the 43rd season of “Austin City Limits.” She was going to try to pretend the cameras weren’t in her face, and that this wasn’t a monumental occasion, the band’s first “ACL” taping and the opening for the season. (The show was also on KLRU’s Facebook Live.)
Hynde, though, was aware of the commotion around her. In the studio, a chalk line separates the stage from where the audience on the floor can stand. “Don’t cross the line,” she told the audience. “How many times have you heard that? Don’t cross the line or do.”
And then she dropped the F-bomb, one of many that would be unleashed this night, one of many that will have to be edited out or bleeped when the show airs.
“You don’t have to be polite because we don’t plan to be polite,” she said.
Crossing the line became the running commentary of the night. At one point she turned to a woman in the audience, “Lady, your toe. It’s over the line.”
It might have been “just another gig,” but Hynde was thrown by the haze in the air made to create a smoky atmosphere. During the soulful, powerful “Down the Wrong Way,” she had to restart twice. She explained the haze “It just took me by surprise,” she said. “I’m not used to being gagged.” Of course, then she made a joke: “I’m not crossing the (@#$%ing) line.”
She got the producers to stop the haze and then continued the show in perfect voice. “Talk of the Town,” one of the Pretenders classic songs sounded just like the day it was recorded in 1980 — 37 years ago.
She shone on the expected songs, the rocking “My City was Gone” and “Back on the Chain Gang,” where the rasp in her voice gave the lyrics edge. But the soft, tender songs like “Down the Wrong Way” and “I’ll Stand By You” during which she put down the guitar and stood with just the mic, hitting her upper register in painful sorrow, were magical.
The Pretenders opened with two songs off the new album “Alone,” the self-titled “Alone” and “Gotta Wait” and then launched into less well-known standards “Message of Love,” “Private Life,” “Down the Wrong Way” and “Hymn to Her.” The audience was respectful, but ready for the hits, which they then unleashed: “Talk of the Town,” “Back on the Chain Gang,” “I’ll Stand by You,” “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” with a break for the lesser known “Stop your Sobbing” before hitting “My City was Gone,” then “Mystery Achievement” and ending the set with “Middle of the Road.”
Hynde talked about their time in Austin during South by Southwest. “We’ve certainly had a good couple of days in Austin,” days that started with a show with Stevie Nicks at the Erwin Center. They’ve been to downtown and the Domain, which caused the audience to slightly turn on her with mention of how beautiful the Domain is and how she’d like to live there or downtown, “If I could afford it, if you could afford it,” and with that the audience was back with her. She was one of us. And then she launched into the wistful “My City was Gone,” reminding us that Austin is and always will be cooler than places like Akron, Ohio.
The Pretenders who are Hynde and original drummer Martin Chambers are now joined by James Walbourne on lead guitar; Nick Wilkinson on bass guitar and Eric Heywood on pedal steal guitar. Hynde was respectful to give each member credit and time in the spotlight, something less-seasoned performers forget to do. They were a cohesive unit — each dressed in all black with hints of color. Chambers had gold sparkled high tops, Hynde wore boots with flames on the heel and a pink-lettered Recycled Records of Reno T-shirt, Heywood hid a white dress shirt under his black jacket, Walbourne had pops of red flowers on his jacket and Wilkinson’s guitar strap also offered a pop of red.
After a short break, they returned to the stage. Hynde was ready to go but waiting on Chambers to get situated behind his drum kit. “Forty years I’ve been with him, almost. … 35 years I’ve been with him … 30 years I’ve been with him … 25 years,” she counted it down waiting on him with a wink in her voice.
For the encore set, they launched into two new songs “Let’s Get Lost” and “I Hate Myself.” She set up “I Hate Myself,” with these words: “In about 10 years this will be a classic. Savor the moment you heard it for the first time.” It brought down the mood to depression levels and was the only dud of the night. “Oh, leave it out,” she said after it was through.
She picked up the energy with “Up the Neck” before closing with “Brass in Pocket.” The audience was on their feet, dancing to the familiar anthem. They closed with, “Thank you Austin, thank you! Thank you, Austin City Limits.”
“Alone” off the new album “Alone”
“Gotta Wait” off the new album
“Message of Love”
“Down the Wrong Way”
“Hymn to Her”
“Talk of the Town”
“Back on the Chain Gang”
“I’ll Stand by You”
“Don’t Get Me Wrong”
“Stop your Sobbing”
“My City Was Gone”
“Middle of the Road”
“Let’s Get Lost” off the new album
“I Hate Myself” off the new album
“Up the Neck”
“Brass in Pocket”