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Stevie Nicks, the Pretenders deliver knockout one-two punch at Xcel

Stevie Nicks Tuesday at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center

Stevie Nicks Tuesday at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center Steve Cohen

It was Stevie Nicks' show Tuesday night at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, though it felt more like a rock 'n' roll double-header. 

It’s probably unfair to call the Pretenders the “opening band" -- it’s the Pretenders.  

Chrissie Hynde, author of some of the most recognized rock songs ever, looked every bit the rebel we've loved for years in her jeans and Elvis T-shirt. It can be a dicey proposition to open with brand-new songs, as she and her Pretenders did at the X, but they pulled it off with “Alone” and “Gotta Wait.”

Immediately, you remembered what you've always loved about the Pretenders. Clean yet crunchy guitars? Check. Laconic vocals that go from nonchalance to rafter-shaking without warning? Check. Attitude? Come on.

“Gotta Wait” was particularly combative and welcome, but when the boom-thwack drums of 1981’s “Message of Love” kicked in, the already appreciative crowd went a little bananas. “The things I’ll do for a handsome man,” Hynde said after tossing a guitar pick to a lucky gentleman up front.

It was on.

Hynde bobbed and weaved through her set list full of unforgettable tracks spanning the past 36 years.

1986’s “Hymn to Her” was beautifully staged with largely a cappella vocals, and “Back on the Chain Gang” was dedicated to tourmate Stevie Nicks.

“She’s even better than you think she is," Hynde said. "It’s like traveling with Liz Taylor.”

Hynde praised St. Paul (“It’s cold outside, but there are warm hearts") before launching into the funky “My City Was Gone," complete with stomping bass and multiple guitar freakouts. There was a playful, almost Burrito Brothers-esque feel to the pedal-steel guitar on new track “Holy Commotion," and the version of the Kinks’ “Stop Your Sobbing” was a ringing endorsement to do just that.

“Don’t Get Me Wrong” was as bouncy as you remember, and “Middle of the Road” blazed toward the finish line. Of course, the evening wouldn’t, couldn’t be complete without “Brass in Pocket." This song has always been sexy, and Hynde strutted and posed her way through it for the adoring crowd.

After the Pretenders' super-charged set, an announcement: “Stevie Nicks will be out in 25 minutes.”

The stage was radically altered for Nicks and her big band -- two keyboards, one bass, two guitars, two backup singers, and a drummer. Nicks came out last, naturally, backlit by the projection of a rising sun and surrounded by chandeliers. 

Bathed in golden light from top to bottom, the band launched into the joyous, buoyant “Gold and Braid." Obviously, Nicks was wearing her platform boots, flowing capes, and surplus scarves. 

The legendary Fleetwood Mac vocalist set the tone early: This was to be a storytellers evening, and the set list would be a little surprising. “I put everything into the dark, gothic trunk of mystery," an on-brand Nicks reported to the crowd. 

What came out were hits, deep cuts, and tracks only recently released from the vault (the current tour is in support of September's 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault, featuring songs Nicks recorded from the '60s through the '80s). 

Prior to playing “Stop Dragging My Heart Around," Nicks first brought up Tom Petty, who co-wrote the tune. It seems that in addition to being in Fleetwood Mac, she desperately wanted to be in the Heartbreakers. Hynde came back out to take Petty’s place for the song.

During Fleetwood Mac’s “Gypsy," the crowd got its first defined “twirl” from Nicks, and fans responded with great enthusiasm to her trademark move. 

Deep cut “Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream)” was inspired by the Twilight films, and an image of Edward and Bella from the movies lurked disconcertingly from the riser.

Still, Nicks dedicated the song to Prince, and like Tom Petty, our late funky genius was another subject she returned to again and again. Nicks shared that “Stand Back” was inspired by hearing “Little Red Corvette” for the first time. She and Prince got together shortly thereafter for a jam session, and “Stand Back” was the result.

Then we got back to the Mac, who rocked Xcel themselves back in 2015. “Gold Dust Woman” featured a supremely eerie extended opening, as the band took their time getting to the majestic, cathartic conclusion.

Has there ever been a more badass guitar track than the one opening “Edge of Seventeen”? Ask Beyoncé, who sampled the 1981 Nicks solo track on Destiny Child's 2001 hit "Bootylicious." Hell, ask anyone. The answer is no. The crowd was waiting for it, and it seemed the band was, too. Swirling imagery played at your senses as the band rocked it out of the park. Perhaps unsurprisingly, video images of doves morphed into photos of Prince.

Triumphant, sweaty, but certainly not done yet, the band left the stage with the Xcel’s crowd on their feet.

Encoring with Fleetwood Mac songs “Rhiannon" and a beautiful version of “Landslide," Nicks explained how the latter told the story of her wrestling with mixed emotions over a lover (cough, cough ... Lindsey Buckingham) in order to continue on in music.

It was a night of magic and rock 'n' roll. As Nicks reminded the crowd repeatedly, dreams do come true. It felt like Hynde and Nicks are both living their own.

Critic's bias: I have kept Stevie Nicks at arm's length for my life so far, but after this show I am (finally) ready to pull her in for a warm hug.

The crowd: Well, no one is getting younger these days, right? Lots of flowing scarves, cloaks, etc.

Overheard In the crowd: “I knew she had a pair of lady balls in her pants, but not a harmonica.” [when Hynde finished “Middle of the Road” on the mouth harp]

Random notebook dump: Here are Stevie Nicks’ Secret Life Tips --
1. Always use analog recording devices.
2. When buying fabric, invest in silk chiffon.
3. If you sing, sing every day.
4. When on a play date with Tom Petty, bring Hershey’s Cocoa Powder in case you need a snack.

Check out more photos from the show here.