Judge Bill Gibron will not stand by you. You're on your own.
You may want to keep your brass in pocket for this one.
Though drummer Martin Chambers was there at the start of their musical legacy, The Pretenders have been and always will be Chrissie Hynde. As the band's chief songwriter, guiding force, and sole consistent member, she's the prima donna punkette who wound up becoming one of the last remaining viable women of rock. She's had her notoriety (affairs and children with The Kink's Ray Davies and Simple Minds' Jim Kerr) and her heartbreak (both original bandmates James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon died of drug overdoses) all while delivering a catalog of songs that contain both classics and unfairly unrealized hits. She's even earned the dubious honor of inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But none of this matters when Hynde is on stage. Beyond the parameters of whatever her backing combo is today (Chambers came back into the fold in 1994 after a nine year absence), she is still the leader, for better and—on rare occasion—worse.
Taken from a 2003 performance at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, The Pretenders: Loose in LA represents the band touring on the tail of a new album (2002's Loose Screw) and a good percentage of the set list is made up of tracks from this release. Fair warning for those of you looking for more material from Pretenders II (only "Message of Love" and "Talk of the Town" are represented) or favorites like "Show Me," "2000 Miles," "The Wait," or "Hymn to Her." While still representing an amazing two hours and twenty minutes of music, we still miss the supposed smash "hits." Also missing is a sense of urgency. For all their troubles, The Pretenders have earned the right to relax in their advancing middle age. But this doesn't necessarily make for fiery onstage antics. Hynde plays passionately, as does guitarist Adam Seymour and keyboardist Zeben Jameson. Yet it's bassist Andy Hobson who seems to be channeling the overall internal vibe. He's so laidback and uninvolved that you'd swear he was doing the sound check, not the actual show.
In fact, most of Loose in LA comes across as far too calm. Perhaps it's the mix, or Hynde's battle with voice issues (she complains at one point of taking one—in this case, a cortisone shot to the butt—for the team), but the overall feeling is one of toned down defiance. This is no "pushed to eleven" event. This is The Pretenders doing the right thing and delivering what they think the crowd wants. There is no denying the quality of the material—Hynde rights great, almost instantly memorable songs—and the musicianship is stellar. But we expect to have our asses kicked by something like The Pretenders, not to sit back and watch as they work through a couple hours of rehearsal. We want fire. We want brimstone. We want the Hynde that preyed on the paternalistic nature of the music business like a mantis on a mate. Instead, we are satisfied if not fully sated. Considering their caliber as rock originals, The Pretenders deserve some slack. However, this show may be a bit too lax for those who helped the band find their initial fanbase footing.
As for the quality of the Blu-ray, Eagle Vision does its typical stellar job. The MPEG-4 AVC encode gives the 1.78:1/1080i image a lot of punch. Colors are crisp and the amount of detail is excellent. You can even see how ageless Hynde is most of the time (the woman looks amazing for her early 50s). Thankfully, the direction by Brian Lockwood avoids the rapid cut ridiculousness of the MTV-style concert presentation. On the sound side of things, there are three different mixes to enjoy. The best, naturally, is the DTS HD Master Audio which provides excellent separation between the musicians and lots of audience ambience. The 5.1 and PCM Stereo set-ups are rather unimpressive, however. They come across as flat and directionless. Finally, the added content is a bit lame. There's a full length video for the new song "You Know Who Your Friends Are," a brief bit of backstage commentary from the band, and a concert montage. That's it. When you include the booklet that comes with the set, that's an insignificant amount of bonus features.
For most of their career, The Pretenders have been praised for being at the forefront of a movement to bring talented, tenacious women to the otherwise male-dominated kingdom of rock and roll. Thirty plus years after starting the revolution, Hynde and her latest incarnation of the band deserve a bit of rest—just not on our concert time.
Not guilty…but definitely not great.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
• Concert Montage
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