Concert Review: Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders, Tulsa’s BOK Center, March 6, 2017

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It’s a pairing that is visual and aural gold. And if you miss it, you’ll only have yourself to shoulder the blame and shame.

Photo by Scott A. Smith

Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders brought their new “24 Karat Gold” tour March 6 to the Tulsa’s BOK Center, and the concert contained just about everything that’s right with rock and pop music. Hit singles from both acts? Check. Popular album cuts? Check. Deep, rarely played songs that rightfully bragged of a quality equal to the crowd-pleasing tunes? Roger that.

Springing out of the starting gate with firecracker-like zest, The Pretenders opened the evening by letting their punk-meets-new-wave-meets-rock potion spill out all over the multi-generational audience. Leader Chrissie Hynde’s vocals were impeccable throughout the set, alternating between an urgent, get-out-of-our-way bark and the more soothing tones of a strong soul still willing to shed a few rays of her vulnerability. “I’ll Stand By You” and the peppy, bouncy “Don’t Get Me Wrong” gained edge and, more importantly, purpose in the concert setting, and a glorious cover of The Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing” was downright flawless.

Even better was The Pretenders’ “Back on the Chain Gang,” the perfect single that was recorded in the summer of 1982 following the deaths of original Pretenders members James Honeymoon-Scott (guitar) and Pete Farndon (bass). The former died at age 25 of a drug overdose in June of 1982, while the latter passed away at age 30 in April 1983. Featuring guest guitarist Billy Bremner’s country-tinged, now-famous solo that almost miraculously was captured in only one take, the original studio version of “Back on the Chain Gang,” still stands as one of the greatest songs from the 1980s.

For the Tulsa version of “Back on the Chain Gang,” Hynde stood with the tip of her toes near the stage’s edge as she slashed out the track’s opening chords on her light-blue Telecaster guitar. Fifteen seconds later, Martin Chambers’ assertive drums entered the sound mix to act as The Pretenders’ driving engine. Chambers, who with Hynde is the only original band member, proved to be in near-peak physique, hitting his snare, toms and cymbals with authority. His drum patterns locked in super-tight with bassist Nick Wilkinson, whose hands repeatedly put his instrument’s four strings in their place.

Steel guitarist Eric Heyward was key to adding depth to The Pretenders’ sound. His instrument rounded out the rock vibe with steel guitar, keyboard-like sounds and, by Hynde’s own admission into the microphone, “some crazy, weird sounds.” Also crucial to The Pretenders’ stomping set was lead guitarist James Walbourne, whose six-stringed work was fiery and tasteful. For “My City Was Gone,” Walbourne made his Fender Stratocaster howl and shriek. His pick hand went all staccato on the strings, and it was a roaring thing of beauty.

The Pretenders’ ability to temporarily serve as an opening band that strikes fear into the hearts of headliners shouldn’t have surprised anyone in the arena. Hynde, Chambers and an early incarnation of The Pretenders heated up The Who’s stage with an equally spectacular set in Dallas back in November 2006. It was impossible to fathom earlier in the day, but the Tulsa show may have been even greater.

Photo by Scott A. Smith

Stevie Nicks also failed to disappoint ticket-buyers inside the BOK. Fronting a band that was a bit more streamlined but could still kick out the jams, Nicks visited much-cherished numbers like “If Anyone Falls” and one of her staples as a member of Fleetwood Mac, the magical “Gypsy,” and she spoke about each song, revealing her past and current thoughts on her creations.

For a lively run-through of the Nicks/Tom Petty duet, “Stop Dragging My Heart Around,” Nicks was joined by Hynde, with the two splitting the female vocal parts while Nicks’ friend and long-time collaborating guitarist Waddy Wachtel handled the voice segments originally done by Petty. Appropriately, the audience members shouted their pleasure.

When “Starshine” and “Stand Back” showed up three-fourths into Nicks’ set, Nicks and company were cruising as a well-oiled beast. Nicks’ voice retained its distinct power and color. She was equally captivating when she talked about her inspiration for “Stand Back,” which hatched when she was riding in a vehicle and listening to Prince’s “Little Red Corvette” track.

“It kept coming to me – stand back, stand back, so I called up Prince,” Nicks told the crowd. “I told Prince, ‘This song is half your song,’ and he said, ‘Yes, it is half my song.'”

Laughter and a few whistles then reverberated throughout the BOK.

“Prince then played keyboards on it, he played guitar on it, it was all great,” Nicks said.

Nicks’ production crew also displayed what looked like an early 1980s photo of Nicks and Prince on the big screen over the stage. It was one of many moving moments that happened under the spotlights that night, helping make the tour a must-witness experience for all music-buying individuals. It sure had the ingredients to be one of the best tours to hit the road in a long, long time.

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