Veteran U.S. Rocker Plays It Like A Pro
By Jane Stevenson
CANOE — July 7, 1999
Molson Amphitheatre – July 6, 1999
TORONTO — Like the strong, cool breeze that finally broke Toronto’s uncomfortable heatwave of the last few days, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were a welcome sight at the Molson Amphitheatre last night.
First of all, the seminal veteran rock ‘n’ roll outfit hadn’t played here in four years, despite having released two excellent albums in that time — 1996’s soundtrack for She’s The One, and this year’s stellar Echo.
And secondly, the band were in exceptionally tight shape, having been on the road for three weeks with the equally pleasing-to-the-ears Lucinda Williams, and managed to deliver a performance unmatched by anything thus far in this summer’s ho-hum concert season.
The one surprising thing was you’d think there might have been a bigger crowd at the waterfront venue for the 46-year-old Petty and his beloved Heartbreakers — guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, and bassist-backing vocalist Howie Epstein — joined by Steve Ferrone on drums and perennial studio musician Scott Thurston on just about anything he could get his hands on.
The official audience tally was 9,000 — just over half of the amphitheatre’s capacity — but seeing as they were one of the rowdiest bunch of concert-goers I’ve seen in quite sometime, dancing in the aisles, while clapping and singing along, who’s counting?
Petty, meanwhile, was clearly tickled by the response with a big smile plastered on his face throughout the night and made more friends in the crowd as the evening progressed with hit after hit from his 23-year career.
“I’ve been off the road for a long time,” he said at one point. “It’s really a treat every night. I thank y’all for showing up all these years.”
Back to the ’70s
The set list stretched all the way back to such ’70s morsels as Breakdown, American Girl and Don’t Do Me Like That, before moving through Petty’s prolific ’80s period with You Got Lucky, Don’t Come Around Here No More, Free Fallin’, Runnin’ Down A Dream and I Won’t Back Down.
Even the ’90s material, You Don’t Know How It Feels, Mary Jane’s Last Dance and Walls, along with five songs from Echo, were all received well by the audience — especially the new album’s barnburner first single, Free Girl Now, and more thoughtful tunes like Rhino Skin and Room At The Top.
Dressed in a Johnny Cash-like black outfit of long coat, pants and ruffled shirt with a green scarf tied around his neck, Petty was surrounded by an elaborate, theatrical stage.
There were red velvet curtains, gold tassles, ornate hanging lanterns, pillows, plenty of candles, moving backdrops — which at times seemed to break down — and even a wooden trunk out of which Petty pulled a black top hat to perform Don’t Come Around Here No More.
Petty even went in for “a costume change” — returning to the stage in a new white top and black leather vest about halfway through the show.
Meanwhile, Williams and her five-man band, including boyfriend Richard “Hombre” Price on bass, ripped through a spirited and jam-friendly, eight-song, 45-minute set.
The material consisted mainly of songs from William’s latest album of blues-and-folk-tinged country, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. The record is the biggest success of her 20-year career which has netted her a Grammy and a second appearance on David Letterman tomorrow night.
Still, Williams did include Change The Locks, which Petty himself covered on She’s The One, and thanked the Toronto audience for their warm response and Canadians in general.
“We just celebrated the Fourth of July, but you are ahead of us in so many ways– the differences are immeasurable,” she said. “I just want to applaud you for doing something right.”
Right back at ya, Lucinda.
JAM! Rating: 5 out of 5