CANOE — June 4, 2008

Air Canada Centre, Toronto | June 3, 2008 | Rating: ★★★★☆
By Jane Stevenson
CANOE — June 4, 2008

TORONTO – As rock pairings go, Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and Steve Winwood is a pretty good matchup.

So it went last night at the Air Canada Centre as the respected southern countrified rocker Petty, who originally hails from Florida, headlined alongside the British blue-eyed soul-funk-rock journeyman Winwood as opener.

Both men are just three years apart in age, if vastly different artists in terms of sound and history.

Petty and The Heartbreakers — rounded out by lead guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, drummer Steve Ferrone, bassist Ron Blair and guitarist Scott Thurston — have an album, Highway Companion, that’s now two years old, and was only represented last night by the first single, Saving Grace, which vastly improved in a live setting.

No matter, their arena-friendly hits from the last 30 years, big full sound, and a souped-up production consisting of an amusement park ride-worthy backdrop and circular and  box-shaped video screens floating above them, made for two hours of memorable music in the hockey hangar.

Petty, 57, in a downright chatty, happy mood, immediately encouraged the nearly sold-out audience to clap along during the show-opener You Wreck Me, and later suggested a singalong during the third song, I Won’t Back Down.

“So how are you tonight?” said Petty, who is sporting a dark beard these days but still maintains his shaggy blond hair. “I’m doing pretty good myself tonight. Anybody feel like singing?”

The answer turned out to be “yes,” given the massive singalong that erupted afterwards during Free Fallin’, with nice guitar work from both Petty and Campbell, and Learning to Fly, Don’t Come Around Here No More, Runnin’ Down a Dream (kudos to Campbell again), and American Girl later in the night.

“It’s so nice to be back here, we haven’t been back here for a while,” said Petty, who last played the Molson Amphitheatre in 2006.

“You’re so sweet,” said Petty, who asked that the lights be turned on behind the stage so he could see the audience at one point and wave to everyone.

Petty wasn’t afraid to dig into the vaults for Even the Losers and Refugee from 1979’s breakthrough album, Damn the Torpedoes, and the rarities Spike, Rebels, and Sweet William, the latter of which he kidded “only came out in Iceland or something like that.” He even paid tribute to the pioneering guitarist Bo Diddley who passed away this week.

He also trotted out The Traveling Wilburys’ End of the Line, a hit of his late ’80s supergroup with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, and the late George Harrison and Roy Orbison, his own The Waiting with its catchy, “yeah, yeah” chorus, and the slower Face In the Crowd, with outstanding guitar and piano work from Campbell and Tench, respectively.

Winwood, who alternated between playing organ and guitar, is touring in support of his month-old new album, Nine Lives, featuring the first single, Dirty City, which includes his old pal and Blind Faith bandmate Eric Clapton on the album version.

Still, it was the classics from the 60-year-old’s storied musical membership –Spencer Davis Group’s I’m a Man, Blind Faith’s Can’t Find My Way Home, Traffic’s Dear Mr. Fantasy and his own solo ’80s hit Higher Love — which got the biggest crowd approval.

Winwood’s 65-minute set was fleshed out nicely by a funky sounding four-piece band — guitarist Jose Neto, drummer Richard Bailey, sax, flute and organ player Paul Booth and percussionist Karl van den Bosch — with all of the musicians, including Winwood, taking the songs in jammy directions during their respective solos.

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