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Age doesn't slow Hynde, Pretenders

The veteran band's sellout show at Ruth Eckerd Hall combined hits from the '80s with new material in the same vein.

"Doesn't this look like fun up here?" Chrissie Hynde asked the sellout crowd at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Saturday night. Then, after a pause, Hynde taunted her 2,200 fans: "Don't you wish you had stayed in that band?"

Leave it to Hynde and her band the Pretenders to presume everyone wants to be a rock star. After all, it's the only career Hynde, 48, has ever had or wanted. And, really, Chrissie Hynde defines rock star. Watch the skinny singer strut with her guitar; Hynde moves as deliciously as Keith Richards. Look at Hynde's classic shaggy bangs-in-eyes hairdo, her androgynous yet sexual swagger across the stage. Now her guitar's nestled in her crotch; now Hynde's arm is lifted confidently to the sky.

Hynde defines cool.

And with a voice like that _ an assured, full-bodied alto, rich, with that crushing tremor _ not to mention her fabulous rock star outfits (Saturday's was dark navy jeans, tight black T-shirt, and long, black, three-quarter's length overcoat with gaudy turquoise scarf), Hynde has the star goods.

Fans appreciated the band as it started tightly, playing selections from its punchy, back-to-form new album Viva El Amor, and later, favorite Pretenders tunes such as Message of Love. When Hynde belted out the song's classic line, "Everybody stand up," the adoring flock did just that.

Drummer Martin Chambers was in fine form, celebrating, Hynde snitched to us, his 53rd birthday. Chambers _ he of the wicked buzz cut and spindly sideburns _ bashed on his kit during Message Of Love like a punk half his age.

Age, in fact, was a topic Hynde addressed several times in her audacious, off-the-cuff dialogue with the audience.

"Incidentally," Hynde said, "It's great to see so many old people here." Chambers joined in. After fans applauded a particularly good bit, he told the crowd, in a crisp British accent, that they were too kind to someone so ancient. Hynde assured one audience member, "Don't worry, buddy, I'm 48 and I love it."

The singer and drummer, who have been playing together off and on since the Pretenders' inception in 1978, exchanged quips throughout the night. Hynde was typically Chrissie: teasing the band after flubs, stopping songs. She was funny, cocky and opinionated.

This woman has few social hang-ups. At one point Hynde suggested the audience might be wondering how she got to be such a (bleeping) good guitarist. Hynde attributed it to lesbianism, although the singer is happily married to Lucho Brevia, a 34-year-old Colombian sculptor who is quite male.

Hynde's one beef, if you will, is with the "evil meat industry." A vegetarian since 1969, Hynde wore an anti-fur button backstage before the show began. Onstage she told meat eaters to go, ahem, bleep themselves. (The band also invited members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to set up a booth in the lobby.)

Hynde's commitment to animal rights is as admirable as her nonchalance concerning the respect she gets from the generation of female musicians after her. Hynde shrugs off her position as a groundbreaking woman in rock. Perhaps it's no big deal to her, but Saturday night it was refreshing to see a big, burly man in front of the stage playing air guitar while mesmerized by Hynde with her Fender.

The rest of the crowd had just as much fun dancing to hits such as Kid, which Hynde dedicated to original Pretenders James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farandoless, who both died of drug overdoses in the early 1980s. The band also did Back on The Chain Gang, Don't Get Me Wrong and Night In My Veins. The new material such as the older-chicks rock anthem Popstar and Baby's Breath, sounded as fine.

During the hour-and-a-half performance the crowd many times erupted in dancing and standing ovations. Middle of the Road inspired fans to sing along. (Those "whoo ooh ooh oohs"never sounded so good.)

The band did several encores, including Mystery Achievement from its debut album and Stop Your Sobbing, penned by the Kinks' Ray Davies (Hynde's ex-husband and the father of her teenage daughter.)

Hynde and the guys proved Saturday that the Pretenders are more than a one-woman show. Chambers' drumming is better than ever. The younger guys, guitarist Adam Seymour and bassist Andy Hudson, are full of vigor. The band's focus is again sharp. Of course, it's naive to say Hynde is not its focal point. The girl can't help it. Hynde, who calls herself a "humble servant of rock," was born to do this work.