Few bands that experienced success in the ‘80s are still kicking in 2004, unless it’s on the nostalgia wave that still seems to be rolling in to shore. Few are putting out new material, and fewer still are able to headline their own shows. One band that is still able to hold its head up and claim to be doing these things on its own terms is The Pretenders, led by the ever reliable and super-talented Chrissie Hynde.
When Hynde arrived in London from Akron, Ohio, aware that the USA was not the place for a genuine female rocker, she experienced many of the same expectations and beliefs that chicks just can’t rock. She soon showed them and word quickly spread through the London rock scene that this loud-mouthed, brash Yank was not just all talk, and had the voice and songs that you could not ignore.
Assembling the first Pretenders, and quickly getting on with recording their first album, the band didn’t take long to attract attention. The first couple of singles did well, but it was the least Pretenders sounding song on that first album that shot to the top of the UK charts, a song that Hynde herself has always expressed doubts about, Brass in Pocket.
The touring-recording-touring roundabout became routine for The Pretenders, but things did not always run smoothly. The death of two members between albums two and three meant a new line-up that has continued to change over the years and has featured such musicians as Sly and Robbie, and even ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr.
The hits flowed from Message of Love, Kid, Talk of the Town, Back On the Chain Gang, Middle of the Road, Don’t Get Me Wrong, Hymn to Her, Never Do That, I’ll Stand By You, and Night in My Veins.
In 1995, The Pretenders performed unplugged in a London studio (maybe they tired of waiting for an MTV invite) to a small band of loyal and appreciative fans. With a stripped set, and moody lighting, the band lived up to expectations. Unplugged performances allow performers no place to hide - either you can play or you can’t - and you are going to be found out. Every wonder why few of today’s artists want to give it a whirl?
You would expect the songs of The Pretenders to translate well to acoustic arrangements, and they do. Without exception, this is a stellar performance, even for the songs that have been slightly reworked.
Kicking off with 1990’s Sense of Purpose, through the obvious hits, the less obvious choices, a cover of Radiohead’s Creep (not on the audio CD), and closing with Night in My Veins (also not on the audio CD), the band are in fine form and Hynde sings with brilliant passion and understatement. Check out the uber-stripped Hymn to Her accompanied by single notes played on an organ. Special guest for the night was Blur’s Damon Albarn on piano for I Go to Sleep. The string section adds a wonderful touch to many of the songs, highlighting a sensitivity sometimes lost in full plugged-in setting.
The entire set shows what a true talent Chrissie Hynde is. Her beautiful voice cannot be questioned and is, again, faultless. The band’s playing shows deftness and versatility and varies from restrained to solid and uplifting. It may not contain all of the biggest hits, but that is the beauty of the performance, and after waiting years for this to hit DVD, no fan can afford to be without The Pretenders – Isle of View. On a final note, the producer of the show was Helen Terry – one time singer with Culture Club and a good friend of Chrissie Hynde.
Sense of Purpose
I Hurt You
Back On the Chain Gang
Brass in Pocket
Hymn to Her
Lovers of Today
The Phone Call
I Go to Sleep
Night in My Veins
The toughest thing about recording a show such as this would have to be capturing the mood set by the studio lighting. This is no fancy light show, and the studio is moderately lit at best. However, most of it manages to look acceptable. The aspect ratio of 1.78:1 is not 16:9 enhanced, and the print is clean and dirt free. Grain appears not to be an issue, and while there is some shimmer on one or two smaller items, there are essentially few real problems. There is one noticeable video glitch where the image freezes ever so slightly, but the audio is not affected. Colours are a bit difficult to comment on as the lighting is subdued and has a slightly dusty look at times, although there is no obvious reason for this. The picture is by no means washed out or faded; it’s just that the moody lighting makes colours different to what they really are. The best option is to watch the show in a darkened room, as this best replicates the studio look and feel, not that I was there mind you – I wish! This allows the show the chance to look its best.
The most notable thing about this Dolby Digital stereo only track is the lack of volume. You may find a need to crank your system to a new volume to hear it all with any punch. When you do, however, you will hear that the actual track is quite nice with an excellent fidelity where every guitar string rings through, the string quartet sounds warm and clear, the acoustic bass is subtle, yet has a nice depth and resonance, and Martin Chambers' drums sound solid as does the percussion. Being an ‘unplugged’ show, this was never going to raise the roof.
There is clear and discernible separation, but not for anything other than the left and right front speakers. All instruments and vocals are clear and cut through. You’ll just need to give the volume control a decent nudge for this to shine.
Sadly, there are no extras included, and all you get is the show folks. At only 66 minutes, a few little extras thrown in might have been nice.
The Pretenders are one of the few bands from the ‘80s that are still relevant and still producing quality new music, as well as the owners of a back catalogue that hasn’t dated. Chrissie Hynde has indicated in recent interviews that there is every chance The Pretenders will not be around for much longer. She yearns for a life of domesticity and anonymity that being a Pretender does not afford. This being the case, the music world will lose one of its true survivors and that will be a really shitty day.