Thursday, November 17, 2016

Review Stevie Nicks with The Pretenders Live in Boston November 15, 2016

This is the kind of package that never could have happened in 1981. But in 2016 this bill makes sense.
By Jim Sullivan

BOSTON – Stevie Nicks and the Pretenders, together on tour. This is the kind of package that never could have happened, say, in 1981. The Pretenders were the hard-edged, snarling voice of Anglo-American new wave, having released two A-level albums, “Pretenders” and “Pretenders II.” Nicks was the ethereal, ever-twirling enchantress from the multi-platinum Fleetwood Mac, who with the “Bella Donna” album had started her soft-rock solo career.

But in 2016 this bill makes sense. There’s nothing divisive about the camps of fans anymore (if there ever was), and the prospective demo is almost the same, the 50+ pop/rock market. (Nicks also guested on “American Horror Story” playing a version of herself, probably earning some young fans.) The Pretenders’ lead singer-guitarist-songwriter Chrissie Hynde is 65; Nicks, 68; and they both wear it well. The two hooked up and had fun during Nicks’ set for a rendition of the duet hit Nicks scored with Tom Petty, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” with Hynde taking Petty’s vocal.

So, that’s the show that came to Boston’s TD Garden Tuesday and, make no mistake, it was Nicks’ baby. This jaunt through the arenas supports her 2014 CD “24 Karat Gold Songs from the Vault,” and Nicks, her backing sextet and two female backup singers were on stage two hours and 10 minutes. The Pretenders got an hour, and the bad weather, traffic and a box office ticket snafu had us missing the first third, which included two from the new “Alone” album, the title cut and “Gotta Wait” plus “Private Life” and “Message of Love.”

Given my druthers, I’d have much rather heard more Pretenders and less Nicks. But so it goes. Nicks was there, as she said, to unpack her trunk. I’ve always enjoyed Nicks in the Fleetwood Mac context, half of the primary female voices, one of the core three songwriters. The Mac meshed styles and personalities as did few other bands.

Nicks alone? Of lesser interest. For one thing, her contralto voice too often was lost in the music, in comparison to Hynde, whose cut through loud and clear. Nicks explained at the onset that they were late arriving and didn’t think they’d get out of Washington, D.C., because of the intense rain. And they had “a hard curfew at 11 o’clock so if I come off like I’m talking fast, it’s just that I’m trying to fit everything in.” (I think in part she was trying to humorously suggest her fast-talking had nothing to do with cocaine, her old dance partner/nemesis that once fueled her and the Mac during those high-flying days.)

Nicks and company played 19 songs, none less than tuneful but not that many compelling, most floating in the zone of mid-tempo pleasantry. And if you do the math – 19 songs into 130 minutes – you know that left a lot of time for yak, and Nicks is chatty to the point of self-indulgence. She was occasionally engaging – talking about the “gift” she got from Petty, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” - but she deeply needed editing.

While her song “New Orleans,” about the city recovering from the 2005 hurricane, was affecting, the back story – watching it unfold on TV from L.A, not wanting to make it depressing, hoping to make it celebratory – was TMI. Her story about her and then boyfriend Don Henley writing and recording “Leather and Lace” was interminable. And while the melodramatic piano-based ballad “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream)” was eloquent, Nicks’ post-song explanation that it was about the “Twilight” lovers tilted toward schlock.

Nicks was dressed in black and was draped in various shawls throughout the show, including the silk chiffon from the “Bella Donna” days. She donned a white furry coat during “Moonlight” and was less the twirling dancer than she used to be. She did, however, have a frenetic few moments during Waddy Wachtel’s sizzling guitar lead during Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman.” And while solo songs like “Edge of Seventeen” and “Stand Back,” which became an ode to Prince, with both their images floating on the scrim behind the stage and the band rocking hard, had some power, it really was the Mac songs that clicked. She did “Dreams” and “Rhiannon” in addition to “Woman,” and they were the high points of a long set.

The Pretenders, with hard-hitting original drummer Martin Chambers back in tow – live gigs only, no studio – hit mark after mark. Hynde, clad in an Elvis T-shirt and tight blue jeans, may (still) be the best female rock singer around. The way she glides and soars around a vocal line – that wavering tremolo - is sublime. The string of “Back on the Chain Gang,” “I’ll Stand By You,” “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” “Stop Your Sobbing” and “My City Was Gone” was pure bliss, achingly resplendent.

Hynde kept her sometimes volatile temper in check, telling a joke when Chambers suffered a kit malfunction and only noting before “Holy Commotion” that “white supremacists aren’t Christians – you can do what you want with that.” For the final stretch, the Pretenders hit high gear with “Mystery Achievement,” “Middle of the Road” and the ever-slinky, sexy “Brass in Pocket.”

Face it, the Pretenders have a stellar catalog from which to choose – songs that embrace sensuality, wistfulness and power, with slash-and-burn guitar licks from Hynde and James Walbourne. We could only offer a sigh of regret that they did not include “Precious” and “Tattooed Love Boys.”

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