Chrissie Hynde

I wouldn’t dare try to rank Greatest Male Rock’n’Roll Singers – how to compare Elvis Presley to Mick Jagger, Van Morrison to Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen to Robert Plant, Little Richard, Frankie Valli, et al. – yet the question of Greatest Female Rock Singer jumped to mind as I watched Chrissie Hynde bring down the Arlington Theater house last week (12/5/14). Yes, there’s Patti Smith, whose Horses is the greatest rock album by a female, but her singing is a bit more idiosyncratic (poetic?) and when I saw her on a comeback tour a couple years ago I was left a bit cold. Pat Benatar and Joan Jett are other names, but their resumes are short. Chrissie Hynde is an out-and-out rocker; her current album, Stockholm, is one of the year’s best, 35 years after her first hit; and at 63 she can hit every note as originally recorded. She snarls, poses with her guitar and interacts with her bandmates, just as a rock star should. Except for one or two ballads, the crowd was on its feet, dancing, the whole night. Unlike some artists, who feel they have to update or fiddle with their classics, Hynde sang every Pretenders hit note-for-note, oozing authenticity and musical integrity. She doesn’t play up the female angle at all. If she has a figure, it wasn’t visible behind her man’s vest and necktie, and the uncombed mop on her head looked like Keith Richards’s on a bad day. (Interestingly, Patti Smith dresses in a similarly androgynous style.) No, she was just there for the rock’n’roll. (As a concession to age, she could have done without the tight jeans, however.) Her backup band rocked (James Walbourne on lead guitar), her between-song comments were on the mark, but what got me were her great songs and her voice.