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Chrissie Hynde, Meltdown, review: 'sexy, spiky energy'
"Why didn't you tell me you wanted to hear the old ones?" asked Chrissie Hynde teasingly, over the thunderous applause for a high-energy rendition of Don't Get Me Wrong. It's the perennial rock star dilemma: you want to play the songs from the new album; the audience wants to hear the classics that remind them of their lost youth.

Halfway through her set, Hynde remarked, with characteristic steely diffidence, blade-edged with humour, "We'll just get through the new album, and then we'll play some songs you might recognise."

Hynde's appearance at James Lavelle's Meltdown was her first UK show in five years and the new album, Stockholm - named for the city in which it was recorded - is her solo debut after 35 years with the Pretenders. She has always looked like the cool, difficult girl the boys were too scared to ask out, and at 62, nothing has changed.

She was as lithe as a teenager in her black skinny jeans and white waistcoat, and that remarkable voice - a clarion coo in the upper register with the aching, sexy break in the lower range - was as exquisitely disturbing as ever.

On CD the new album is a lot of fun - insofar as a near-dozen upbeat arrangements of downbeat lyrics about heartbreak, lost love, useless men and so on ("You're as consistent as a weathervane c**k", she sings, witheringly, in A Plan Too Far ), can be fun. On a second listen, it's interesting as well.

The standout is not so much the first single, Dark Sunglasses, a scathingly energetic takedown of wannabe celebs - but the hauntingly restrained dark lullaby, Tourniquet, with which Hynde opened on Saturday.

But in live performance the dynamic changed. It wasn't just the exhilaration of seeing Hynde prowling the stage with feral grace - though that is quite something. But a pared-down ensemble gave the songs a spiky energy that the high sheen of the CD - produced by Hynde's co-writer Bjorn Yttling, with cameos from Neil Young and John McEnroe (yes, him, the badass tennis player-turned-commentator and wannabe rock star) on guitar, and a lush string section - somehow contrives to efface.

Sean Read on percussion faithfully reproduced the peculiar drum-machine effect of the CD arrangements, cheerily disregarding expressive range and what we classical types call rubato, but increasingly confident support from Ollie McLaren on guitar and vocals scattered the lyrics with nervy sparkle.

There were roars for the old favourites - Don't Get Me Wrong, and a heartstopping solo rendition of Hymn to her. But the new album is oddly compelling in its negligent way. She's too cool to ask for approval, Chrissie, but she's got you, all the same.

James Lavell's Meltdown until 22 June 2014. Tickets: 0844 847 99444; southbankcentre.co.uk.

Chrissie Hynde - Dark Sunglasses on MUZU.TV.

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