Chrissie Hynde refused to recognize the big day. Instead, she focused on celebrating the little room she chose to play on it.
When audience members started yelling out "happy birthday" to Hynde a few songs into the Pretenders' soon-to-be-legendary set at 7th St. Entry on Thursday night, the singer curtly muttered, "Nah, we ain't having any of that."
Later, when fans loudly started singing the birthday song to her, she hurried her band to start up their next tune before the crowd could even get to the "dear Chrissie" part.
What a party pooper. But what a giant personality and plainly cool rock 'n' roll icon, traits that shined brightly in the up-close and personal face-melter of a performance.
Thursday's set was probably the biggest little show of the modern era in Twin Cities rock lore. Acts like Nirvana, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, White Stripes and Billie Eilish all played 7th St. Entry on their way up, but Prince is the only other Rock and Roll Hall of Famer to have played the tiny 250-person venue at such an established stature.
Hynde, who turned 72, opted to hit a handful of small, storied U.S. rock clubs like the Entry on off nights from the Pretenders' current arena tour as Guns N' Roses' opening act. The original Pretenders — none still in tow save for Hynde — played their first Minnesota gig next door in the First Ave Mainroom a month after 7th St. Entry opened in 1980.
"We love this place. We love this city," Hynde said toward the end of the 80-minute set.
She also pronounced her affection for Duluth indie-rock trio Low, calling it her "favorite band." A night earlier, she took in a gig by Low co-leader Alan Sparhawk's new group Derecho at Icehouse in south Minneapolis.
The Akron, Ohio, native — who famously hung out with the Sex Pistols in London in the mid-'70s — clearly still fancies herself an edgy artist with one foot in the underground and plenty left to say, even while she's also playing big hits to classic-rock crowds in venues that sell $15 beers.
Thursday's set proved her very right. The show was devoid of all the Pretenders' biggest hits. No "Back on the Chain Gang," "Middle of the Road," "Don't Get Me Wrong" or "I'll Stand by You." Not even "Brass in Pocket." The best-known songs were "Precious" and the Kinks cover "I Go to Sleep," both saved for the encore.
Still, the set was riveting from start to finish. The lesser-known material cast a brighter spotlight on the impressive firepower within the Pretenders' current lineup, as well as the depth and continued vibrancy of Hynde's songwriting. Many of the songs also showcased — even challenged — her as a vocalist, an area where she has vastly outlasted most of her 70-something rock peers.
Hynde picked out a cool grab bag of older deep cuts and standouts from more recent Pretenders albums, including a handful from a promising new album out next week, titled "Relentless."
Among the oldies were "The Adultress" and "Time the Avenger" early in the set. Just before the encore came "Thumbelina" (a twang-rocky showpiece for James Walbourne, Pretenders guitarist since 2008) and "Tequila" (one of Hynde's most tender vocal deliveries of the night).
From the 21st century albums, "Boots of Chinese Plastic," "Don't Cut Your Hair," "Gotta Wait" and "Junkie Walk" all sounded as powerfully punk and snidely cool as anything from the early LPs. Hynde dedicated the latter song to the Sackler family of Purdue Pharma, blaming America's opioid crisis on them — and shouting out recent overdose victim Blackie Onassis of Urge Overkill.
The songs from the new record touched on aging and complacency in evocative and sarcastic ways. In the hard-strutting show opener "LosingMy Sense of Taste," Hynde sang, "I don't even care about rock 'n' roll." Clearly, that was a lie. She saved the hazy new single, "Let the Sun Come In," till near the end, where it earned an excited reception.
"We don't have to get fat / We don't have to get old," she sang in that one — also clearly a lie, but at least that one rang truer than could be expected during this highly energized, focused, tight and inspiring performance by one of rock's most ageless heroes.