Friday, August 27th, 2010
Into The Great Wide Open
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and Crosby, Stills & Nash at The Air Canada Centre in Toronto
Frank YangHonestly, I’d thought that Tom Petty had retired. Between the themes of he and The Heartbreakers’ last studio record, 2002’s The Last DJ, and the victory lap of 2006’s 30th anniversary tour, I thought that he’d called it a day on active touring and my opportunities to see him perform had dried up. I don’t know how or why I had that notion, but it was clearly wrong as Wednesday night, there I was at the Air Canada Centre, ready to see Mr. Petty and company for the first time and, needless to say, excited about it. Update: And further proof I thought he retired – I completely forgot about the existence of 2006’s solo record Highway Companion. Oops.
Conversely, I’d never thought that Crosby, Stills & Nash had called it a day. Even though they’d not released a CSN record proper since 1994, they’d been touring constantly – sometimes with Neil Young, more often without – and though I had respect for their work and reputation, had never felt compelled to see them live. That said, I had no problem with adding another legendary act to my, “yeah I saw them” list. And that’s about all I got out of their almost headline-length opening set, as it was clear that whatever magic they had in their younger days was greatly diminished.
I appreciate that the ’60s are a long ways gone and all three had done more than their share of living in the interim, but hearing how shaky their once-pristine trademark harmonies had gotten was disappointing to say the least. They still performed with aplomb – more rock than their folk roots with Stephen Stills taking more than a few big rock guitar solos and Graham Nash chatty and charming as the group’s de facto spokesman – but the numbers that should have shone brightest, like “Our House” and “Love The One You’re With”, came off the wobbliest and they only got away with it because most of the audience was loudly singing along with all the old chestnuts and probably weren’t paying that close attention to the actual performance. One couldn’t help but think how this would have gone if Neil were along for the ride? He’d have probably kicked their asses backstage.
Petty and The Heartbreakers likewise came to give the people what they wanted to hear but did it almost perfectly, the way you’d expect one of America’s finest rock bands of the past 35 years to do. Petty, dapper in a duster and sporting a sharp-looking beard, was all smiles and Southern charm and opened with the big bold jangle of “Listen To Her Heart” before sliding effortlessly into a slightly greased-up “You Don’t Know How It Feels”. The band sounded nothing short of amazing as a unit – maybe not so surprising considering how long they’ve been playing together, but remarkable to see and hear nonetheless. The arrangements of the songs were largely faithful to the recorded versions, leaving their perfect pop structures and southern accents intact, but improvisationally pushing the edges just enough to let them stretch out and show off a bit. This mainly applied to lead guitarist Mike Campbell, whose economical solos on record serve the song perfectly but in live setting, allow him to inject that extra dose of flash and bang.
One gets the sense that letting Campbell better showcase his talents was a large part of the reasoning behind their blues-centric new record Mojo, which I should and do appreciate for giving them the excuse to head back on the road but not much else. The blues is not alien territory for the band, being an essential part of their Americana stew, but brought to the fore as it is on the new material, it’s just not interesting with their faithfulness to the genre coming at the expense of the hooks and melodies. The four-song set of Mojo material dropped in the middle of the set really put the damper on what to that point had been some terrific momentum though on the plus side, it did give Campbell some impressive solos and allowed a good portion of the audience to refill their beer.
That said, there wasn’t any better way to get things back on track than with a gorgeously stripped down version of “Learning To Fly”, followed by a thundering “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and a grand “Refugee” to close the main set. At this point the 11PM curfew was drawing awfully close, but there was no way the nearly-full arena was going to let things end without the encore, and so they returned for “Runnin’ Down A Dream” and what I thought for sure would be the coup de grace show stopper – and my favourite Petty tune – “American Girl”. But instead of the big ringing D chord I expected, they broke into the Wildflowers-vintage descending riff of “You Wreck Me” and while I like that song a lot, it’s not “American Girl”. And after the big linked-arm bows and the house lights came up, it became clear that there would be no “American Girl”. And as great as most of the show was to that point, it was and remains a bit of a bitter finish for me… In time I’ll be able to focus on the great 100 minutes they did play and not the three they didn’t, but y’know Campbell, you could have soloed just a little less and bought some time and it would have been perfect. Just saying.
Photos: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Crosby, Stills & Nash @ The Air Canada Centre – August 25, 2010
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Walls”
Video: Tom Petty – “You Wreck Me”
Video: Tom Petty – “You Don’t Know How It Feels”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Peace In L.A.”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “King’s Highway”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Into The Great Wide Open”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Learnin’ To Fly”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Yer So Bad”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “A Face In The Crowd”
Video: Tom Petty – “Free Fallin'”
Video: Tom Petty – “Runnin’ Down A Dream”
Video: Tom Petty – “I Won’t Back Down”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Jammin’ Me”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Rebels”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Don’t Come Around Here No More”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “You Got Lucky”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me)”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “The Waiting”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Here Comes My Girl”
Video: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – “Refugee”
MySpace: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
MySpace: Crosby, Stills & Nash
As expected with such a massive tour already lined up, Sufjan Stevens will release his first new and proper album in ages on October 12, the day before he plays Massey Hall. Pitchfork has details on what to expect from The Age Of Adz and the first MP3 is up for grabs.
The second part of Le Blogotheque’s Take-Away Shows from NXNE is now up.