Among our aging legends of rock some decades past relevance, Chrissie Hynde enjoys a perhaps unique distinction. Always transcendent, her voice has somehow grown stronger and lovelier with age. However goofy her tight tee and Tina Turner-nudging fright wig might seem when glancing through concert photos, the 65-year-old cuts an impressive figure. She has brass in pocket—and a higher register of burnished steel, effortlessly soaring atop incandescent trills belted to the rafters and intoning fuck-or-fight flirtations of roiling carnality—but, like the adage says, it's mostly about the notes you don't play.
With powers undimmed and technical proficiency assured, she indulges her genius for phrasing with a confidence and wit and unquestioned command that ranks with the old gods of American popular song. And, as was said about peak Sinatra, her thrillingly sui generis interpretations of songs you know by heart defies attempts at singing along. At the Roseland Theater on Dec. 12, she sped through the chorus of "Stop Your Sobbing" at giddy double-time, while an impossibly elongated pause between the first and second words of "I'll Stand By You" drew a few mystified chuckles from the crowd.
Her vocal talents are so rich, their effect so immediate, she managed to hold the sold-out Roseland crowd spellbound during even those lengthy dips into a 21st century oeuvre familiar to absolutely no one in attendance. The difficulties of keeping crowds captivated during an old artist's new songs shouldn't be underestimated. But, at the same point, her core following of monied grey-beards are precisely the people who buy every last recording of favored old soldiers.
La Hynde has never made uncomplicated admiration easy. While we can maintain hope that some guiding hand one day helps foster a late-career rebirth of memorable songwriting, but the limp R&B strewn across latest release Alone suggests fellow Akronite and Black Keys-master Dan Auerbach is not that savior. Alas, the rockabilly flavors of her recent solo debut Stockholm proved an even worse fit, and likely influenced the hiring of a touring bassist and guitarist each locked inside OTT impressions of Brian Setzer-as-fratboy. (On that album, free to choose anyone in the world for session work, Hynde's guitarists were Neil Young and, um, John McEnroe.)
Near show's end, she threw herself into the tweener mall-goth inanities of "I Hate Myself" with a bonkers commitment that honestly embarrassed everyone capable of that sentiment. Sometimes, it's always about the fucks you don't give.