Chrissie Hynde opened The Pretenders’ gig in Tel Aviv on Saturday night by marching out on stage waving a giant Israeli flag, and ended it by declaring the crowd to be “the best audience in the world.”
But Hynde, whose band played a terrific near-two-hour set at a well-filled Menora Mivtachim arena, had an even bigger compliment for Israel. A vegetarian and veteran animal rights activist, she pronounced the state to be one of the world’s leaders in animal rights.
Fully aware that not everything is perfect in Israel when it comes to animal rights, however, Hynde sported a T-shirt bearing a graphic with a cow’s face and Hebrew text declaring that it was time for “stopping the live shipments” — of animals brought from overseas for fattening and slaughter here.
The Akron, Ohio-born, Anglophile singer, songwriter and guitarist said she’d learned some Hebrew words in the last couple of days but forgotten them — she said she’d leave the Hebrew to Mick Jagger — and she’d also forgotten the name of “one of your holidays” that her friend Sandra Bernhard had told her she ought to dedicate a song to. But she did dedicate one song to the animal rights activists she said she’d met on this trip, and another to her cherished cows — possibly a first in Israel.
For those who believed this was The Pretenders’ debut in Israel, Hynde had a correction. The band played here in 1987, she recalled, and she’d just met a guy out front before the gig, she delighted in reporting, who told her he’d never eaten meat again since that night.
The set was a rich mix drawn from a near-40 year career, rockers and gentler numbers, including “Stop Your Sobbing,” “Kid” and “Brass in Pocket” — the songs that made the band — and moving versions of “Hymn to Her” and “I’ll Stand by You,” the night’s highlights. Only her and drummer Martin Chambers remain from the early days; she dedicated a song to founding guitarist and bassist James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon: Without them, The Pretenders wouldn’t be here, she noted. But then, of course, she added candidly, without The Pretenders, they might be. “So don’t fuck with the rock’n’roll, boys,” she warned.
Hynde was plainly in good spirits, and the warm reception could only have helped. She seems to adore her newer bandmates — especially guitarist James Walbourne — and to happily tolerate Chambers’ eccentricities. Sensibly so: he’s a highly unusual and effective drummer, relatively un-reliant on the high-hat, heavy on the toms, putting in a solo notable for how much he did without using his left hand.
Hynde is the undoubted star, however, and what was striking, in this high-ceilinged arena, is how warm, strong and powerful her voice is. She’s 66 — look it up if you don’t believe me — and emphatically in the finest singing form.
Good-natured to the end, Hynde sportingly signed a record sleeve and other mementos for those in the front rows even as she was playing the last encore, “Brass in Pocket.” And she left a cheering crowd doubtless hoping it won’t take 30 years to get her back here again.