The lesson learned from Saturday's JP, Chrissie and the Fairground Boys show at Park City's Eccles Center for the Performing Arts? Chrissie Hynde is better as a punky Pretender than she is as a heartbroken femme fatale.
Hynde's latest project, a collaboration with singer/songwriter JP Jones, is a dissection of a May/December romance scuttled by the difference in the respective parties' ages. Of course, it's natural to read the songs on the duo's new album, Fidelity!, as a reflection of the 60-year-old Hynde and 31-year-old Jones' own relationship back when they first met two years ago.
Whether or not that's true, there didn't seem to be many sparks flying between the two on stage at the Eccles Center. That's not to say both didn't have their moments, but the hour-long set (encore-included) was oddly off-balance throughout.
Part of that might be the audience's unfamiliarity with the new material; the show was completely dedicated to the songs on Fidelity!, with one Moby Grape cover thrown in the encore. And while Fidelity! is full of strong songs rooted in rock and Americana, no doubt many in the crowd were expected at least a few Pretenders tunes in the mix. Another part of the weird vibe can probably be attributed to the room, too; it's not easy to make the Eccles Center feel like a rock venue, and this was most definitely a rock and roll show. A rock show with an audience that remained seated throughout, and the space between the front of the stage and where Hynde and Co. was set up seemed ocean-size.
Musically, there were several highlights that seemed like they might launch the show into something more memorable than it ultimately turned out. Early takes on "If You Let Me," "Fairground Luck" and "Australia" all showcased the true connection between Hynde and Jones in terms of penning catchy pop-rock together. Jones' voice rang clearly through the hall, and it's a pleasing sound, even if he's not particularly entrancing as a frontman, a fact made all the more clear when you have a mesmerizing presence like Hynde next to him, playing guitar and tambourines while sharing the vocals.
In fact, throughout the show, my attention kept wandering to the right of both singers, to lead guitarist Patrick Murdoch. In song after song, Murdoch ripped out incredibly soulful guitar solos that gave Hynde and Jones' songs a definite boost. The entire band was top-notch, but Murdoch is clearly the ace on stage, a master of his instrument.
The remainder of the set was full of Fidelity! songs like "Leave Me If You Must," the title track and "Perfect Lover," the album's opening track. The three-song encore included "Never Drink Again," that Moby Grape cover and the band's Christmas song.
And that was it. Fifteen songs in one hour and they were outta there, an abrupt end to an oddly unsatisfying night.