The Pretenders Return to Kick Ass

Just don’t make me dance to it.

Spend any significant length of time as a serious music fan, and you'll eventually find yourself embroiled in one of the circuitous, age-old arguments about rock and roll. Some of these disputes are timeless, and often have to do with an artist's evergreen popularity (the Beatles vs. Stones debate) or with the instinctual need to make sense of the tragedy and humiliation that abounds within the culture ("Is it better to burn out than fade away?"). Then there are the auxiliary arguments (audiophiles snipping over analog versus digital), and that particular brand of kvetching that accompanies the live music experience.Despite the fact that this city was once known for sloppy, adoring fans who went bananas every time a touring band graced our region, Seattle audiences (and musicians) have developed the habit of griping about complacent spectators who stand still or "don't dance" during shows. On one hand, I understand this complaint from both perspectives: A band pouring its guts out onstage probably doesn't appreciate looking out on a sea of blank stares and ironic T-shirts. Likewise, passionate music fans don't like their fervor squelched by a bunch of stick-up-their-ass bores. However, the idea that you are some sort of half-baked fan if you don't dance or lose your shit at a show is as preposterous as the suggestion that people who don't own turntables don't truly love music (though I have been guilty of asserting this).Case in point: the knockout performance last Thursday at the Sunset by angular and spazztic local punks The Intelligence and their like-minded Bay Area buddies the Oh Sees. There was a distinct group up front frothing over with enthusiasm (and beer). But there was a dense half-circle of people surrounding them who were barely moving yet obviously thrilled by what they were witnessing. Sometimes music can be so arrestingly good that it simply leaves one devoid of ambulatory notions, though otherwise entranced. If my feet are planted on the ground and I'm shaking my head in disbelief while grinning like a crazy person, I think I've fulfilled my duty as an appreciative audience member. The next person who insists that I dance to show my team spirit is gonna get sent straight into the twirling nitwit inevitably found at a Black Angels or Spiritualized show.Of course, the fact of the matter is that probably everyone's held an opinion on some aspect of rock 'n' roll which they've later revised. As an enraged Riot Grrl in the mid-'90s, I could get reflexively silly when it came to the women in the music industry whom I perceived as traitors to the sisterhood. Pretenders' frontwoman Chrissie Hynde had a field day around that time, fucking with people who wanted to drop a feminist mantle on her shoulders, famously declaring that she was "just like any chick who likes to talk about makeup in the girls' room" and consistently brushing off the idea that she had to struggle as a woman in the male-dominated punk movement of the '70s. I misread this as some sort of internalized sexism on her part, utterly missing the reality that she refused to conform neatly to anyone's expectations, whether those of Third-Wave feminists or the old boys' network of music journalists.Luckily, all it took to open my eyes and ears was the serendipitous timing of receiving two separate mixtapes from male friends, both of which included the Pretenders' "Tattooed Love Boys." It was the lyrics' audacity and twisted brilliance that grabbed me initially ("I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for"), but it was the mindbending time changes, slipping between traditional 4/4 and arty 7/8, that hooked me, and I was off and running as a Pretenders fan. That song's ribald structure and energy can be found all over the band's brand-new release, Break Up the Concrete, their first album in six years. The lead single itself ("Boots of Chinese Plastic") is a raw and robust home run, and though no Seattle tour stop in support of Concrete has been announced yet, the prospect of seeing them live has me salivating (though not necessarily ready to dance)

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