BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
As women rock stars go, there aren’t many cooler than Stevie Nicks and Chrissie Hynde.
At 68 and 65, respectively, they look refreshed, focused and as if they want to keep making music for several more decades. They also sound robust, with any previously ragged edges to their voices smoothed by care.
This “24 Karat Gold” tour, which packed three-quarters of Philips Arena Sunday night, is Nicks’ solo ride, her (clearly joyful) diversion after spending three years on the road within the confines and endless compromises of Fleetwood Mac.
But by slotting Hynde and The Pretenders for an hour-long opening set, Nicks is also giving fans a whopping injection of female-fueled musical power.
The ageless Hynde, in tight jeans and lightened hair, stalked the stage while speak-singing the new “Alone,” the title track of The Pretenders’ recently-released 10th studio album.
Only drummer Martin Chambers remains with Hynde from the original lineup and he provided plenty of heft from behind his Plexiglas cage as he pumped through “Back on the Chain Gang” and the joyful rockabilly bounce of “Don’t Get Me Wrong.”
But Hynde appeared to enjoy playing off younger players James Walbourne on guitar and Nick Wilkinson on bass – all the while looking as if she could eat them alive.
She strapped on a guitar to toss out the dirty chords that signal “Message of Love” and stripped to a black Elvis T-shirt to unveil the sumptuous opening riff of “Chain Gang.” Her powerful voice rang clearly on the lighters-up power ballad “I’ll Stand By You” and she nimbly snatched a harmonica from her back pocket for the signature break in “Middle of the Road.”
With a pack of solid new tunes to sell – the new melodic rocker “Holy Commotion!” is making noise on the international charts – Hynde re-affirmed that she will never, ever go quietly.
About 30 minutes after The Pretenders’ rollicking set, an amber hue bathed the stage and the goddess Stevie arrived, clad in her uniform of black – jagged-edged dress, vest, boots – and ready to shake her fringe-adorned tambourine to “Gold and Braid.”
She immediately set the tone for what would be a two-hour-plus romp through her lengthy solo catalog – even digging out the Buckingham/Nicks classic “Crying in the Night” for the hardcore fans – by telling the fawning crowd that she realized after the Fleetwood Mac tour, “I have to do something different this time…If I can’t do what I want to do for a change, then why am I doing it?”
Plenty of hits salted the set – from the sublime “If Anyone Falls” with its romantic synthesizers to Nicks-penned Mac favorite “Dreams” (which, she reminded, was the band’s only No. 1 hit) to a disco-lighted “Stand Back.”
Hynde, who barely had time to towel off, returned for a fantastic duet with Nicks on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” The pair gave the song a twist, leaving guitarist – and longtime Nicks accomplice — Waddy Wachtel to handle most of Tom Petty’s verses in a he said/she said face off.
But this show was indeed a love letter to the faithful, to those who thrilled more to the opening notes of “Outside the Rain” than any classic rock nugget and who never thought they would hear the little-played title tracks of her beloved early-‘80s solo efforts, “Bella Donna” and “The Wild Heart” performed live.
Nicks, who was relentlessly warm, gracious and funny (“This is Music 101 and I’M the teacher!” she giggled), also proved an eager historian, sharing stories with fans about the origins of many of her deepest cuts, such as the rootsy poem-turned-hopeful-anthem “New Orleans,” which Nicks wrote for the city in the throes of Hurricane Katrina.
She and her six-piece band and two backup singers – forever friend Sharon Celani and ‘80s powerhouse vocalist Marilyn Martin – performed on a stage framed by lighted panels meant to look like pieces of a photo frame, a video screen behind them showing a combination of ethereal images and vintage Nicks photos.
As she sang, her unmistakable voice galloping through “Starshine” — a song recorded with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – and soaring on the piano ballad “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream),” Nicks subconsciously whipped the sides of her dress or tangled her hands in the mass of ribbons wrapped around her mic stand.
She indeed twirled a bit during “Stand Back” and, as smoke curled across the screen and the telltale cowbell echoed through the arena, worked into a hair-whipping frenzy at the peak of the always-dramatic “Gold Dust Woman.”
Nicks’ well-documented history with Prince was illustrated during a charging rendition of “Edge of Seventeen,” with Wachtel adding even more razor-like riffing at the start of the song. White lights snapped and images of doves flashed across the screen with photos of Prince stamped behind them – nothing else needed to be said about his influence.
Nicks addressed fans several times with genuine warmth, and also wanted to leave them with some hope and what seemed like a bit of motherly wisdom.
“In this crazy world that we live in right now, just remember, when you get crazy, turn on the radio, play some music,” she said before her encore.