By John Sakamoto
CANOE — April 28, 1995
Maple Leaf Gardens – Mar 17, 1995
The last time Tom Petty brought his act to town, his collection of stage props included a man in a dragon suit, a swirling light show, and a psychedelic set that resembled nothing more than the far end of a kaleidoscope.
Flash forward 3 ½ years to St. Patrick’s Day 1995, and the difference in Petty’s show is obvious before he’s played a single note.
The stage has been swept clean of clutter – even the speakers have been neatly suspended above the floor – and in place of all the visual junk from the last tour are: a couple of throw rugs, some three dozen candles and, at various times throughout the evening, even someone’s peripatetic pet dog.
Along with the 13,000 deliriously supportive fans who jammed the Gardens last night, it also turned out to be the perfect backdrop for Petty’s new music.
Though he kicked things off with a thumping version of Love Is A Long Road, and one of the evening’s high points was a raucous new tune, Drivin’ Down To Georgia, much of the set was given over to the sombre acoustic material of his current album, Wildflowers.
Along with ruminative numbers like You Don’t Know How It Feels, You Wreck Me and Time To Move On, Petty and The Heartbreakers – featuring rock-solid new drummer Steve Ferrone – went for a mercilessly stripped-down approach to the familiar material.
Learning To Fly, for instance, was carried entirely by Petty’s acoustic guitar and the impossibly tasteful piano playing of Benmont Tench. The result was that the song – not exactly a blazing rocker in its original incarnation – now sounds almost like a hymn.
But the best example of the “new” Petty came on the gleefully twisted Girl On LSD. Dropped from the Wildflowers album at the last minute (you can find it on the B-side of You Don’t Know How It Feels), the Dylanesque singalong details our hero’s involvement with a succession of increasingly screwed-up girlfriends: “I was in love with a girl on marijuana” (loud cheers), followed by “a girl on cocaine” (very loud cheers), then LSD (really loud cheers).
Yet, at the end of the song, Petty looked kind of sheepish, going out of his way to tack on a warning: “I sure don’t want to give you the wrong impression, playing a song like that,” he drawled.
“I’m sure there’ll be someone who’ll say, ‘He was up there under the influence of something.’ But I’m actually completely stone-cold sober.”
“It’s all right,” he smiled. “I’m sober, but I’m still high as a kite.”
Which was, judging by last night’s reaction, a pretty fair way to sum up Petty’s audience, too.
RATING: 4 OUT OF 5