Chrissie Hynde shared a stage with Bob Dylan back in 1984 at Wembley Stadium in London for a blistering update of “Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat,” and the sheer excitement is palpable on her face. A similar look of joy could be seen on Hynde’s face Sunday as she played Dylan songs for a live audience.
Billed as Chrissie Hynde & Co. Sing Bob Dylan (and Other Songs), the performance took place at London’s Royal Opera House. It marked one of Hynde’s first live appearances since the onset of the pandemic, and followed her May 2021 LP Standing in the Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan. The Pretenders frontwoman’s streamed performance premiered via Veeps, the same platform that hosted Dylan’s “Shadow Kingdom” stream in July.
Stepping on a stage in a casual ensemble — jeans, knee-high leather boots and a T-shirt that read “Don’t Pet Me, I’m Working” — Hynde wasted little time leaping into the covers that she and Pretenders guitarist James Walbourne had begun meddling with over the course of lockdown. Alongside Carwyn Ellis on keyboards and Danny Williams on upright bass, the group sat closely together among bright stage lights, creating an intimate-looking setting contrasted with the opera house’s cavernous audience area.
“The light in this place is so bad, makin’ me sick in the head,” Hynde sings on Time Out of Mind‘s “Standing in the Doorway,” before the camera cuts to Hynde’s view of the audience – which is, of course, not bad at all.
Hynde performed every one of the songs from her tribute album but the live energy, particularly from Walbourne, is more exciting than the LP version. “Even [Dylan’s longtime guitarist] Charlie Sexton wrote to [Walbourne] and said to him how much he loved his playing,” Hynde said from the stage.
Walbourne’s talent shines especially on “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight,” from Infidels, a song that Hynde joked was written about her. Gone is the song’s original ’80s sheen, replaced with Walbourne’s superb slide playing. “Give it up for Bonnie Raitt,” Hynde quipped.
There’s a different weight to Dylan songs when they are sung by women, and Hynde seems to know this. She avoids reconfiguring the arrangements of the songs too much, and has previously noted that the decision to keep some gender-specific lyrics intact was a deliberate move, even if she uses the tactic sparingly.
Hynde doesn’t, for example, change the genders for “Sweetheart Like You” or “You’re a Big Girl Now,” but she does for “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.” There’s a cool irony watching one of rock’s most kick-ass, take-no-prisoners figures croon the line “What’s a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this?” in one of London’s most prestigious venues.
“Bob, are you watching?” one viewer wrote in the comment section of the stream. Probably not, but he obviously shares Hynde’s feeling that “Every Grain of Sand” from 1981’s Shot of Love is worthy of resurrection. Dylan reintegrated the song into his most recent tour set list for the first time since 2013.
Like Dylan, Hynde is something of a stickler for phone policies. At one point during the stream, mid-song, she told a woman to put her phone away. After the song finished, she apologized to the woman, realizing that she had mistaken it for the brightly lit “EXIT” sign.
Hynde switched gears after the Dylan updates to songs from Ray Davies (with whom she had a daughter in 1983), Hoagy Carmichael (“I Get Along Without You Very Well”), the French singer-songwriter Charles Trenet (“Que Rèste-T-Il De Nos Amours?”) and a few selections from the most recent Pretenders album, 2020’s Hate for Sale. (A complete set list can be viewed down below.)
Also like Dylan, Hynde now performs, sings, writes and records with a voice that is both familiar sounding to dedicated fans and entirely new – the result of the inevitable passage of time. But Hynde appears to embrace every aspect of it, and in revisiting the work of Dylan, she’s revitalized not only the songs, but herself too. Perhaps even more so in a live setting than a studio, her covers respect the integrity of the original recordings while still reminding the audience that nothing about Hynde’s career path or professional brand has ever been traditional.
“In rock ‘n roll there’s rules, but there are no rules,” Hynde confirmed in the recent documentary, Tomorrow is a Long Time: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan. “My version of rock ‘n’ roll is very different from someone else’s version. … For me personally, there wasn’t anything else. There wasn’t a rule.”
Ticket holders for Chrissie Hynde & Co. Sing Bob Dylan (and Other Songs) will be able to view Hynde’s performance on-demand through Jan. 3 at 2:59 a.m. EST.
Chrissie Hynde & Co. Sing Bob Dylan (and Other Songs), Royal Opera House, London, Set List
1. “In the Summertime”
2. “You’re a Big Girl Now”
3. “Standing in the Doorway”
4. “Sweetheart Like You”
5. “Blind Willie McTell”
6. “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”
7. “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight”
8. “Tomorrow Is a Long Time”
9. “Every Grain of Sand”
10. “I Go to Sleep”
11. “Stop Your Sobbing”
12. “Maybe Love Is in NYC”
13. “You Can’t Hurt a Fool”
14. “Crying in Public”
15. “I Get Along Without You Very Well”
16. “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am”
17. “Que Rèste-T-Il De Nos Amours?”
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