The great non-pretenders: Chrissie Hynde and her new band play Aspen
ASPEN – You figure this would have happened sooner to Chrissie Hynde. Feisty, outspoken and apparently indifferent to concerns of career status, the lead singer of the Pretenders never seemed the type to keep trotting out her old hits for aged crowds. Now, at 59, Hynde still wears the trademark black eyeliner and the high boots that marked her in the late ’70s and early ’80s as the female face of punk-rock – and the look still fits her.But apparently the old catalog of songs – including “Brass in Pocket,” a No. 1 hit in 1979, as well as “Back on the Chain Gang” and “Don’t Get Me Wrong” – good as they might still sound in the classic-rock format, no longer suit her so well.”I’ve taken it as far as I could with those songs,” Hynde said. “After 30 years, who cares?”But in addition to being tired of the old, familiar songs, Hynde confesses to a streak of laziness. “I’m not very ambitious. I just want to be able to keep playing shows, and make another record every few years,” she said. For the record, the Pretenders have continued to make albums of new material regularly, if infrequently. Their last album, “Break Up the Concrete,” was released in 2008, and like most of the band’s output, reached the charts and earned wide critical praise. But Hynde’s dim view of being a so-called legacy act – one that relies almost entirely on decades-old hits – may explain why, when a somewhat inebriated young Welsh musician named JP Jones approached Hynde at a party, introduced himself, and some time later suggested that the two could make great music together, she actually paid attention to the proposal. It helped that Jones, who had led the bands Grace and Big Linda, sent along some examples of his music, and that Hynde was impressed with his voice.Less than two years later, Hynde has the best reason she’s ever found to release herself from the three-decade weight of the Pretenders. Hynde and Jones formed a new band, JP, Chrissie & the Fairground Boys – the first band Hynde has been part of since forming the Pretenders, in Hereford, England, in 1978 – and in August released a debut album, “Fidelity!” The group, rounded out by members of Big Linda, makes its Aspen debut Friday at Belly Up Aspen.••••Following that first meeting, in November 2008, in London, Jones and Hynde exchanged several messages. A common subject of interest was fairgrounds: Jones had grown up on and around arcades in Porthcawl, a beach resort town in Wales; Hynde’s fascination with fairs was manifested in the music video for the 1980 song “Kid.” Hynde challenged Jones to write a song about the topic; the next day, Jones sent her his brand-new song, “Fairground Luck.”When Hynde returned from a Pretenders tour to London, where she has lived part-time since the mid-’70s, the two got together over coffee. Hynde spontaneously suggested they continue the conversation in Cuba. Basing themselves near Havana, the pair wandered Cuba, bouncing song ideas off each other.”It came out like sweat, just pouring out of us,” Hynde, a native Ohioan, said.The sweat apparently wasn’t generated only by the Havana heat, or the musical creativity. The songs that became “Fidelity!” announce with no bit of shyness a flowering romance. One tune after another, from the album-opening “Perfect Lover” to the title track finale, speak of the freshness of a new relationship: “Shakespeare was good, but you’re even better/ You’re tragic and comic to the last letter,” Hynde coos on “Meanwhile.” “Would you whisk me away? Could you kiss these lips every day?” the two sing to each other on “Fairground Luck.”But “Fidelity!” – whose title is a play on the ubiquitous Fidel Castro posters around Cuba – describes a very specific and unusual relationship. The opening song may be titled “Perfect Lover,” but their romance comes with one major issue: age. Jones is 28 years younger than Hynde, and while the generation gap doesn’t seem to have taken any of the heat out of the relationship, the two make no pretense that it doesn’t present problems. “I thought, Why would a young, up-and-coming songwriter hunker themselves with someone with this legacy? It would throw him out of balance,” Hynde said.Such questions drive the narrative of “Fidelity!” Most of the songs present their romance in terms of obstacles that need to be hurdled: in “Courage,” the couple compares themselves to dolphins caught in a net and captives on a pirate ship; a line in “Perfect Lover” claims, “I know it’s wrong, but the pull’s too strong.””It was a prophecy of our future,” Hynde said of the album. “We know we don’t have much of a future, because of the age gap.”A less obvious aspect of “Fidelity!” are the references to the 2008 film “Let the Right One In.” The Swedish movie, which earned numerous awards and cult status, is a vampire story about a friendship between Eli, the peculiar vampire girl, and the bullied boy, Oscar. It is a tale about aging – Eli doesn’t age; Oscar does – but also about how inspiring a friendship, especially an offbeat friendship, can be. “There’s a metaphor there,” While the prospects for a future are cloudy, Hynde and Jones do have a present, which they seem determined to make the most of. Jones had experienced his share of career disappointments. His band Grace had been dropped by their label; a later scenario was a solo album that paired him with songwriters who specialized in making hits. Working with Hynde has felt more authentic and spontaneous.”In Cuba, we wrote songs that were like a conversation with each other. It was a complete surprise,” he said. “I knew the songs were the best thing I’d ever done, truthful and honest, about something real. When she started loving my songs, I thought, There’s no one I’d rather work with. Because she really believes in me.”Hynde praises not only Jones, whom she calls a great singer, but also the band he brought into their relationship. “The Fairground Boys are blowing my mind every night,” she said as their tour bus pulled into Minneapolis. “It’s a solid, great chemistry. I’m getting off on that. I’m writing with my muse, someone who’s really inspiring. They’ve let me come into their world, and it’s different than anything I’ve done before.”And there seems to be at least some future for Hynde and Jones. The two have already written another batch of songs that they plan to make into the second JP, Chrissie & the Fairground Boys album, and Jones intends to make a solo record, with Hynde producing.At least some of Hynde’s motivation in forming JP, Chrissie & the Fairground Boys seems to be the potential to boost a little-known talent. When she speaks of “this whole groundswell of bands we champion, keeping it small and regional,” she probably includes her current group in that category. Another is Amy Correia, the American singer-songwriter handpicked to open the current JP, Chrissie & the Fairground Boys tour.While they revel in the present and ponder an uncertain future, Hynde and Jones are helping to detach Hynde from her past. The Pretenders have a tour of Australia and New Zealand scheduled for late this year; beyond that, she is taking a wait-and-see approach to her old band and her old songs.”They’re always there. It’s great to cast off this legacy thing. It’s tiresome,” she said. “It’s great to have a new band.”firstname.lastname@example.org
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