Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders at Van Andel Arena 11-23-16

24 Nov

WHAT HAPPENED:  Aging but still vibrant female rock icons Stevie Nicks and Chrissie Hynde brought their bands to a nearly sold-out Van Andel Arena Tuesday Night as part of Nicks’ 24 Karat Gold tour.

STILL BRASSY: Hynde led her most recent version of The Pretenders through a tight, raucous hour-long set.  Augmented by original bandmate Martin Chambers as well as tough, younger members on guitar, bass and pedal steel  the band ripped through a set that was heavy on classics but made space for a handful of tracks from the band’s new, Dan Auerbach-produced “Alone.”  The new material held it’s own and the band was remarkably powerful with Hynde looking far younger than 65 and Chambers thumping his toms with the joy of a 20-something.  A mid-set romp through 1979’s still stunning “Mystery Achievement” was a high point but classics like “Back on the Chain Gang,” “My City Was Gone” and the classic cover of The Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing” all stood out as did Hynde’s relaxed banter between songs.  The Pretenders may be a legacy act, but this show along with a solid new record suggests there’s still plenty of life.

THE GOLD DUST WOMAN: Although the arena was mostly full for the Pretenders’ set, there was no doubt most of the crowd was there to hear Nicks and her 90-minute set didn’t disappoint the faithful.  Although she promised a set filled with rarities many culled from her 2014 compilation of previously unreleased material that gives the 24 Karat Gold tour its name, it was still hit-heavy with nuggets from her solo career (“Stand  Back,” “Edge of Seventeen,” a lovely, show-closing “Leather  and Lace.”) as well as Fleetwood Mac standards (“Gypsy,” “Gold Dust  Woman,””Rhiannon”).  One of the show’s more charming aspects was the  lengthy, storytelling segments.  Nicks came off as sincere and appreciative when sharing tales of her songs’ births with the audience who were able to glean a little bit about the inner workings of the artistic life.  Rarities were there as well, including the first Buckingham/Nicks single which she claims is the oldest song she’s  ever performed.  Also interesting was “Starsign”an excellent Nicks/TomPetty composition with a Motown feel that appears on the 24 Karat Cold compilation.  

As much as the music, it was Stevie’s presence that carried the evening.  She comes off as your eccentric aunt at a family gathering–the cool one who never settled down but travelled the world having adventures and now splits time at the family gathering telling impossibly great stories and encouraging you to follow your dreams, even if your parents want you to do something more practical. It amounted to one of the more unique artist/audience bonds you’ll see–truly sincere with two-way adoration.

Unfortunately, Nicks’ voice can’t quite match her repertoire or generous nature.  Although her  pipes proved powerful in the mid-range, she struggled to hit the high notes, particularly in the encore opener “Rhiannon.” Her crack eight-piece band, led by long time co-conspirator and L.A. session legend Waddy Wachtel smoothed over most of the rough spots while replacing  some of the more synthetic elements of her 80s solo output with solid and shaded layers of So-Cal rock.

HIGHLIGHT: Hynde joined Nicks on stage to sing much of Tom Petty’s part on 1981’s “Stop Dragging My Heart Around,” the song that Nicks claims saved her solo career.  Seeing two of rock’s most iconic and strongest female leads sharing the stage was as powerful as it was enjoyable.

LOWLIGHT: For whatever reason, Van Andel’s usually reliable  sound system did not put out the clearest of mixes with vocals often slightly buried or unnaturally shrill.

THE VERDICT: Although the bulk of the fans were attending to get their dose of Nicks doing Nicks there were plenty of joyful moments for casual fans  as well.  In a time where non-white males are remembering what it is to feel like a minority again, the sheer female power of the night was inspiring–a fact that both Nicks and Hynde alluded  to indirectly in their remarks to the audience.  Yet, there were enough strong musical moments to carry the  show as well.  Overall, the bulk of the fans in attendance seemed to leave feeling they got their money’s worth and a little more and not without  good reason.  PRETENDERS A-, NICKS B

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