Review: Chrissie Hynde delivers energetic set at KOKO

Will Spencer 23 January 2015

At sixty-three years old, Chrissie Hynde possesses more verve and energy than singers half her age. Before her entrance on the stage of Camden’s KOKO club, several signs make it clear that Hynde will not permit the use of mobile phones during her appearance. It is an apt preclusion to what is to come. Her words and songs are imbued with a sincere passion far removed from the superficiality of the modern technological world.

Having been singer/songwriter in the Pretenders for over thirty-five years, Hynde’s first solo album, Stockholm, was released in 2014. Classics from days of yore such as ‘Back On The Chain Gang’ and ‘Talk Of The Town’ sit easily alongside her new material, which does not suffer at all by comparison. Not that one would expect it to, Hynde being the writer and creative force behind the Pretenders; indeed, she recently described Stockholm as "more a collaboration probably than any Pretenders album".

The consistent vigour of her band makes the strength of this collaborative force apparent. In conversation with the audience, Hynde is particularly praiseworthy of guitarist James Walbourne, who also forms one half of impressive, stripped-down ‘folkabilly’ support band the Rails. His considerable talents make hard-hitting Pretenders song ‘Middle Of The Road’ a particular highlight.

Like all the best artists, though, it is Hynde’s enduring individuality which sets her apart. Her presence on stage is arresting, precisely because it is not a performance, but the genuine article. The power of her voice and inherent Chrissie-ness are undimmed by time, instantly recognisable and consistently exciting. ‘Adding The Blue’ and ‘Dark Sunglasses’, both taken from Stockholm, are testament to the immutability of her essence, the intimacy of the former and biting social critique of the latter encapsulating much of her appeal.

Hynde is not at all afflicted by the latent onset of contemplation and sedateness which defines so many singers who experienced early success. While there is a more mature, emotional reflection at the heart of songs like ‘In A Miracle’, it is personal rather than ponderous, the crystallisation of an artistic vision, not its gradual slumber. This directness is inescapable throughout, her energy never wavering. That her audience seems to be almost entirely comprised of middle-aged Pretenders devotees reliving their youth is a shame, but understandable, with Stockholm being her first official foray as a solo artist. This is surely bound to change – her sheer vivacity demands a more diverse, younger audience. Far from being purely a nostalgia trip, to see Chrissie Hynde is to experience an artist still at the peak of her powers.