Stevie Nicks with The Pretenders at Spark Arena, Auckland

Stevie Nicks spent a lot of time during last night’s concert at Spark Arena in Auckland talking about her friends. Tom Petty — just “Tom” to Stevie, of course — featured quite prominently in many of her anecdotes about her songs and their genesis, but perhaps the friend to whom she owed the biggest debt last night was Chrissie Hynde.

The Pretenders have been through a number of incarnations over the many years since they formed in England in the 1970s. There’s now just Chrissie, on vocals and occasional guitar, and drummer Martin Chambers with any history with the band; the remainder, bass player Nick Wilkinson, guitarist and keyboard player James Walbourne and Eric Heywood are just pretending. Hynde, then, has made the smart move of surrounding herself with young, energetic and powerful performers, the upshot being a quite remarkable performance made up, essentially, of a greatest-hits package that opened with Alone, powered through Middle Of The Road and Thumbelina, and wrapped up with Brass In Pocket. Hynde looks a lot less than her 66 years; her voice, especially on Hymn To Her sounded just like it did when these songs were recorded. A superb show left a sold-out Spark Arena nicely warmed up for Stevie Nicks.

And Nicks came on stage about ten minutes earlier than expected, causing quite a few fans to miss the beginning of her set-opener Gold And Braid. No matter — it wasn’t the highlight of the show; that came much later. To get there, though, we had a long, and at times rather unengaging, meander through not only Nicks’ back catalogue, but also the stories of their writing. Tom Petty featured quite prominently, as did Prince, and Nicks’ one-time love interest Lindsey Buckingham, and, more often than would be entirely advisable, Stevie Nicks herself, mentioned in the third person, a writer of, apparently, great poetry. These stories were, frequently, quite rambling and self-indulgent, often confused — “I think of you and Australia as two beautiful islands,” she told her kiwi audience — and more than slightly self-congratulatory; they were by far the weakest points in what was, otherwise, a polished, professional performance.

She has the songs, of course, and they were performed with polish and professionalism by a band led by her long-time guitarist Waddy Wachtel. The Nicks solo material was perhaps a touch over-slick, a little less engaging than it might have been, but when other songwriters were involved, the show soared. Early in the set Chrissie Hynde joined Nicks on stage to take Tom Petty’s part in Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, but the true highlight of the show was Gold Dust Woman, the penultimate song of the main set. A slow burn, it built and grew and spiralled and thrilled as Nicks and Wachtel worked around each other to create a climax to the show that demonstrated exactly why Nicks has the status she enjoys to this day. This then led into Edge Of Seventeen, by far Nicks’ best-known, and indeed best, solo number, and Wachtel, as he chugged out the sixteenth-notes of the intro, veered off into the opening riff of Hell’s Bells — “This one’s for Malcolm Young” — before grinding out a reading of the song that was, well, good but not quite as good as one might have expected it to be.

Cynics might want to claim that Nicks’ career has been built to a large extent on choosing her friends wisely. If there’s any truth in this, then on last night’s showing she chooses them very well indeed, and they serve her splendidly. While it might not be the best show we’ve sen at Spark Arena all year, it certainly showcased an enduring talent.

The Pretenders

Stevie Nicks

 

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