Concert Reviews

Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders Rocked Tough and Tender at the Pepsi Center Last Night

Tonight it was easy to forget that Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and Stevie Nicks are both senior citizens and that their greatest impact on popular culture happened in the first half of the 1980s, when both ruled the airwaves. Go ahead, try to tell them that. Because last night, both stars rocked like they did in the old days.

Sure, Nicks was then a member of one of the most popular rock bands of the era as a singer and songwriter in Fleetwood Mac, but she also established herself as a solo artist of note, beginning with her striking 1981 solo album Bella Donna. The Pretenders seemed to come from out of nowhere and were not really post-punk or new wave, despite Hynde's roots in England's punk world and the timing of the first Pretenders record, issued in 1980. Historical coincidences aside, Hynde and Nicks simply played the show like they were having fun with the music and rediscovering a newfound passion for the material.

What became obvious immediately during both sets is how Hynde and Nicks, both rightfully acknowledged for their powerful and arresting vocals, have unconventional and distinctive voices. Both are capable of a broad range of emotional expression and tonal range. Both have grit, and Hynde somehow manages to be tough and tender, while Nicks makes a virtue out of really selling the vocal lines with a forcefulness, like she's amplifying and projecting her direct emotional experience. Both styles create a riveting tension and versatility of expression that is at the root of what makes their music so compelling.

In typical fashion, Hynde joked throughout the show in her cool, wiseacre style, including an oblique dig at the American elections without committing to a stance on the subject. Interestingly, she didn't bother trying to hide her age by dying her silvery hair to be as dark as it was early in her career. That came off like a big fuck-you to ageism. And it's not like she skimped on the energy (nor did longtime drummer Martin Chambers). Hynde long ago mastered the art of coming off strong, while her music is imbued with a vulnerability that makes it accessible. It was a hit, sure, but “My City Was Gone” early in the set seemed especially poignant today — as much about Denver, or any other sizable city in the world today, as it was originally about Akron, Ohio, in the early '80s. Other popular songs made it into the set as well, like, of course, "Brass in Pocket" and "Back on the Chain Gang." But a couple of the group's most inventive and high-energy songs — "Tattooed Love Boys" and "Mystery Achievement" — demonstrated how Hynde and the rest of the band can muster that old fire in their collective belly.
Stevie Nicks told us at the beginning of her set that this wouldn't be like the Stevie Nicks show we were used to, but it would be the one we've been wanting for 35 or forty years, whether we knew it or not. Maybe some of us didn't really know what she meant by that, but her demeanor didn't really demand that kind of scrutiny. Rather, her presence inspired trust that she would deliver on that vague promise. Stevie gave us the hits, all of them from her long career, including strong renditions of her Fleetwood Mac classics like the darkly beautiful “Gold Dust Woman,” “Dreams” and, in the encore, “Rhiannon.” Of course we got “Edge of Seventeen,” “Stand Back” and “Stop Draggin' My Heart Around,” with Hynde joining Nicks on stage for that duet that she shared with guitarist Waddy Wachtel.

We also got long-lost songs that were not released at the time they were written, and the stories related to those songs. This included Nicks recounting that her family lived in both Phoenix and Colorado. She had an aunt who lived in Cripple Creek and owned the largest bar in the country at the time, and “she was crazy, of course.” The latter, naturally, uttered with complete affection. Songs like “Crying in the Night” got a stellar performance. Originally written in 1970, the song was recorded in 1973 for the Buckingham Nicks album that was essentially buried in 1973 when it performed poorly and curiously never reissued after Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham became famous rock stars. Nicks also shared with us an anecdote about having recorded “Starshine” in Tom Petty's basement. “You wish you could have been there, I know,” Nicks quipped with a hearty laugh. Apparently she knew that Petty, who rarely seems excited, was excited about the track when he said, "Hmm...that's a really good song."

The show had all the highlights of what could have been a nostalgia trip, but neither Hynde nor Nicks played it that way. Their obvious respect and affection for one another as artists was infectious, and they earned the audience's attention rather than acting entitled to it.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.