Bimbo’s 365 Club, San Francisco
October 6, 2023
Photos by Raven Divito
When I first saw that The Pretenders were playing Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco, I thought that there must be some kind of typo on the venue’s website. The band, fronted by the legendary Chrissie Hynde, recently released their twelfth studio album, Relentless, last month, and supported its release with a string of truly intimate shows throughout California, with the show in San Francisco being the last one.
At 8:30 the band came onstage to a rapturous applause, the show having been sold out almost immediately after tickets went on sale. But then once the applause died down, the cellphones came up. Tearing into the opening song on Relentless, “Losing My Sense Of Taste,” Chrissie seemed to have one thing in mind: having the crowd put their phones down. During every instrumental section of the song she stood at the front of the stage, making eye contact with the various offenders in the audience, and mouthed at them to put their phones away. Once the song was over she took to the microphone to proclaim, “You can take your cellphones and shove them up your fucking ass.”
The proclamation set the stage for the rest of the show. Instead of relying on past hits to get the audience excited, over half of the band’s main set was comprised of material from their newest album, as well as 2020’s Hate For Sale. The songs were mostly uptempo, with lead guitarist James Walbourne shredding relentlessly during the climax of nearly every song that the band played. When the band did play an older song from their back catalogue in the first half of the show, they stuck to their more aggressive material, like “The Adultress” and “Time The Avenger,” the latter of which still saw Walbourne wailing away throughout it. The current lineup of the band truly does add new levels of grit and aggression to the band’s material.
One thing that has stayed a constant, though, is Chrissie Hynde’s voice. At 72 years old, she sang songs like “Downtown (Akron)” and “Thumbelina” with the exact same voice and cadence that she had when the songs were originally recorded. While other bands that have been together for years have had to slow down the tempo of their songs as they perform them in recent years (I’m looking at you, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), Hynde had no problem singing at the original tempo of the songs that she had written over the years.
One thing that did irk me a bit was the audience’s seeming annoyance at the lack of any “hits” during the Pretenders’ main set. Personally, I loved seeing the band playing whatever they wanted to. This was an intimate show for true fans of the band, not just the casual listener. Instead of closing out their main set with something like “Talk Of The Town” or “Message Of Love,” the band went with one of the hardest-hitting songs from Hate For Sale, “Junkie Walk.” Leaving the audience wanting more with the line, “Don’t you fret or deny, every junkie has to die,” felt like the most dramatic way that the band could end the main part of their set.
After an incredibly short encore break, the band returned to the stage. “I know I said we wouldn’t play any hits, but unfortunately now’s the part where we have to,” Hynde said to the crowd before the opening guitar lick of “Back On The Chain Gang” cut through the crowd’s applause. Following that, the band played their biggest hit, “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” during which Chrissie brought up a woman from the front row to sing with her and dance onstage, a giant smile on the singer’s face the entire time. A one-two punch of my two favorite songs from the band’s self-titled debut closed out the show: “Precious” and “Tattooed Love Boys,” the latter of which was the song that introduced me to the band. Once the song concluded, there was no bowing from the band and no showboating. Hynde uttered a short “Thank you,” the band walked offstage, and the house lights came on. From the beginning of the show until the end, Chrissie Hynde’s punk roots were on full display, and I’ll be surprised if I’m ever able to see The Pretenders in such an intimate setting ever again.