Some stars burn out. Some fade away. Others smolder, and reignite when you least expect it. That’s what I witnessed in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville this week. For our anniversary, I had gotten my wife tickets to tick a mark on her bucket list and see one of her lyrical heroes, the Gypsy Queen of Rock and Roll, Ms. Stevie Nicks. Personally I have always considered Rumours to be a herculean feat of recording, but I am not the super fan that she is. Still, The Pretenders were the opening act, and they fit right in my wheelhouse. They’re the type of band I love because they were good enough to break into the mainstream, but also deep enough not to achieve the kind of pop music success that ruins so many artists. Front-woman Chrissie Hynde is the type of snarling, guitar slinging, prancing singer that makes a rock show worth seeing.
As we sat, waiting for the lights to go down Monday night, I was nervous. I’ve seen a lot of bands over the years: Up and comers, prime-timers, and over-the-hill guitar heroes just looking for a place to play. I was expecting this show to fall into that later category. Would they be able to pull it off, or would we cringe with embarrassment when their voices cracked? Would it be so technologically enhanced that we were basically listening to robots animatronically lip syncing to a digitally remastered copy of their formerly great selves? You take a great risk when you go to a show like that. Avoiding it is the safe thing. Not going means you can remember the greatness when you heard them on the radio as a youth; going means you might be stuck with the memory of their later day faltering. If they falter, that is. Not going also means you never know. I like knowing, and life is all about taking risks. This time it paid off as we witnessed one of the all-time, top-five greatest rock shows I’ve seen. The Pretenders opened with a ferocity that sounded and looked like their heyday. I’ve seen enough artists onstage and met enough offstage to know that makeup can do amazing things, but Chrissie looked outstanding. Wearing an Elvis t-shirt and fitted jeans, she looked exactly as she should. Her vocals were spot on as she sang over pounding drums and the hard hitting baselines that give the band their signature sound. The only thing missing from their set was a piano, which would’ve helped on “My City Was Gone” and “I’ll Stand by You.” Other than that, they were perfect; setting the bar very high for what was to follow. They plowed through their set going from hit song to deep track back to hit song with little interruption. And then, it was time for the Gypsy.
As excited as I was, not many people were there for Chrissie. The night belonged to Stevie, and the crowd of what had to be 15,000 or more welcomed her and her technically perfect band to the stage with a thunderous applause that only a superstar can generate. When the music started and she began weaving her spell no one would remember that it was 2016, or that she was 68 years old. All that was evident was that she was doing what she was born to do. The name of the tour is 24 Karat Gold, and it’s appropriate. Her hits have not tarnished over the years. The “old-new” songs, as she called them, were great too. She referred to them that way because she has recorded a number of songs in recent years that have been locked away since her most prolific days of songwriting. Newer songs she’s written are still quite good, even if you can’t sing along because they never had the benefit of being drilled into your brain on Top 40 radio. She was singing them for her, she said; singing them because she liked them. I heard no disagreement in Nashville. When the time came for “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” (the Tom Petty duet) Chrissie joined her onstage and sang Tom’s part. That was a treat in and of itself. The ladies seem to share a deep mutual respect, both complimenting the other. My one complaint from the show was the movie screen and background videos that ran throughout Stevie’s performance which were a bit distracting at times, but complimentary at others. “Stand Back” was one of the standout times when the screen worked, as the stage was transformed to undulating gold streamers that fit the eighties groove that makes the song so fun. That was my favorite song of the night. Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” That goes for a songstress too. Time will catch up to all of us eventually, but in 2016, Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders are still doing what they were born to do. And doing it very well.