SXSW: Chrissie Hynde in Wisecracking Form as the Pretenders Deliver Hits-Filled Show

Photo courtesy KLRU-TV/Austin City Limits. Photo by Scott Newton.
The Pretenders perform at the Austin City Limits taping during SXSW on March 13, 2017

Chrissie Hynde was certainly aware of the Pretenders surroundings as the group filmed an episode of Austin City Limits on Monday night (March 13) during South By Southwest.

“We’re not taking stock of the fact this is being filmed,” Hynde told the crowd at ACL Live’s Moody Theater early in the quintet’s nearly 90-minute set. “To us this is just another gig…You don’t have to be polite. We don’t plan it on it.” But even though she later acknowledged a bit of self-consciousness, Hynde and company rose above it to deliver a stirring 18-song show, making the most of the venue -- intimate compared to the arenas Pretenders has been playing recently with Stevie Nicks, including the previous night in Austin -- and the chance to play slightly longer than that opening slot usually allows.

Hynde delivered a dose of cheek, too. Her chief target was the ACL line on the floor in front of the stage, which attendees were warned not to cross. “Don’t cross that line – how many times have you heard THAT before?” she cracked early on, though insisting that, “I’m not trying to incite anything.” But she made several other mentions about it throughout the night before waving the crowd forward during the closing “Brass In Pocket,” even bringing one exuberant fan onstage for the last half of the song.

Hynde also drew groans over a joke of questionable taste; Asking a fan seated sidestage in a wheelchair how he was doing she related that, “I dated a guy in a wheelchair once,” Hynde noted. “Fucker dumped me. He got tired of me pushing him around.” She ordered the production team at one point to do away with the light fog “haze” used to soften the lighting, complaining that it affected her singing. “I’m not used to being gagged – of late,” Hynde quipped.  And she was profuse in her praise of Austin, name-checking musicians such as Charlie Sexton and Willie Nelson as well as the nearby condominium where the group was staying. “I could live in one of those condos – If I could afford it. If YOU could afford it,” she quipped.

Musically, meanwhile, Hynde and company were in tight, mid-tour form, starting with a pair of tracks from last year’s Dan Auerbach-produced Alone -- the title track and “Gotta Wait” -- before Hynde removed her dark jacket to reveal a Recycled Records T-shirt to begin a hit parade that included “Message Of Love” and “Private Life.” Pedal steel player Eric Heywood made his presence known on the latter as well as “Hymn To Her” and “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” while James Walbourne continued to cement himself in the group’s formidable lineage of lead guitarists with slashing solos during “My City Was Gone,” “Mystery Achievement” and “Middle Of The Road”  as well as chiming ambience for “Up The Neck.”

“My City Was Gone”  also gave Hynde the opportunity for some political discourse as she noted -- perhaps surprisingly -- that, “Things are looking up in the States. There are some problems, but when weren’t there problems? We don’t have slavery. You can be gay. You can be in a fucking rock band!” And when it was a band as sharp as the Pretenders were on Monday night, it was definitely an early up note for SXSW.

The Pretenders' performance will be the first taping of ACL's season 43. It will be broadcasted on PBS in the fall.