Hynde's out front

Chrissie Hynde confirmed her spot as the woman in rock last weekend with her three-night run with The Pretenders at the Orpheum. Ms. Hynde's hard guitar playing, deep voice, and compelling stage presence, combined with vulnerable lyrics and upbeat melodies, give The Pretenders their unique sound.

From the start of the hotly paced show, Hynde ruled the stage. Singing of the search for love without being raked over the coals, her sultry voice burned with bitterness in the fast-moving ''Precious,'' yet was able to haunt the upper reaches of the Orpheum balcony in the mysterious ''Private Life.''

The show combined a superb band with a fine light show and sound system. The small theater is perfect for a performer like Hynde, much better than 20,000 -seat hockey rinks, which often have the acoustical quality of a large cave.

Drummer Martin Chamber handled the rhythm of the songs with authority, while bassist Malcolm Foster added a solid pulse through the show - especially effective in the frolicking ''Back on the Chain Gang.'' And new guitarist Robbie McIntosh occasionally stole the show with his crisp, sharp leads.

But it was Hynde's night. Most of the eyes in the Orpheum were glued to this Ohio-born performer, who had never performed on stage until five years ago when she went to London and put together The Pretenders. There's nothing make-believe about this new composer-performer's rapid growth and talent.

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