The Pretenders at the Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall can be a difficult venue for performers. Well suited to seated concerts, the building is equally adept at handling standing rock gigs – such as The Killers’ shows of 2009. The difficulty arises when it is used as more of a middle ground, as it was last night for The Pretenders, where seating is set out for a rock gig, almost encouraging people not be involved. Whilst each song was met with enthusiastic applause, it took until the last number of the night – a rousing rendition of Brass in Pocket – for the concert-goers to get to their feet; somewhat surprising given this was very much a performance that was already preaching to the choir, with an audience with an average age of 50.
Kicking things off with Alone, the eponymous track from The Pretenders’ most recent album, felt like a slight anti-climax, with the largely spoken vocal line not engaging the crowd from the start; a shame given that Chrissie Hynde’s vocal performance was the highlight of the evening. However, she seemed to struggle to connect with much of the audience, exchanging back and forth with drummer Martin Chambers, which was largely awkward rather than endearing or funny.
With her unique female-rock voice, Hynde manages to both carry the heavier material with real grit but also provides gentleness where necessary. Unfortunately, last night she was undermined almost every step of the way by a sound mix that placed her vocals below all the instruments on stage. Things improved as the set progressed, but the strongest material was undoubtedly that which naturally placed the performer’s voice front and centre in the arrangement. Hymn to Her was ethereal and powerful with sweeping synths supporting the vocals rather than overshadowing them, and similarly I’ll Stand by You got the reaction one would expect – and it was certainly deserved.
Let’s Get Lost kicked off the encore, again highlighting Hynde’s vocals to great effect, and a country rock masterclass in Thumbelina allowed James Walbourne to provide a stunning guitar showcase. Finishing off with Brass in Pocket, Pretenders fans will no doubt have gone home happy, but overall the band had hit their stride too late.
Photos: Mike Garnell
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Watch the video for Hymn to Her here: