ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 9, 1999
I’ve seen Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perform in Vancouver four times now. The first time—one of the most memorable concert experiences of my life—was at the Commodore Ballroom in ’78, just after the release of the band’s sophomore album, You’re Gonna Get It. The second time was a year or so later at the PNE Gardens, on the Damn the Torpedoes tour. The third time was at the Pacific Coliseum, around the time of 1989’s Full Moon Fever album. And the fourth time was at GM Place last Thursday (September 2). In retrospect, I’ve enjoyed the Tom Petty concerts a tad less with each successive show, so it’s kinda bizarre that I still thought Thursday’s show was impressive.
I guess that means I’m a pretty big fan.
On a baroque-looking stage furnished with red-velvet curtains, scads of candlesticks, and giant incense burners, Petty and his band played about 20 tunes yet omitted such gems as “Refugee”, “Here Comes My Girl”, and “Learning to Fly”. They did, however, keep me smiling with the likes of “You Got Lucky”, “Listen to Her Heart”, and “American Girl”. (Can you tell I like the early stuff best?) There were also a few surprises, like an unplugged version of “Won’t Back Down”, featuring lead guitarist Mike Campbell on mandolin. As much as I like that tune’s electric version, this mellower one came off splendidly.
Sign of a great song, that.
“This is one of my favourites,” said Petty about “It’s Good to Be King” before screwing up the lyrics, admitting to it, and starting one verse over again. Perhaps Petty, who’s noted for his fondness of pot, had been dancing with Mary Jane a bit before the gig. I do know that lots of his fans were lighting up, like the friendly guy beside me who reached over and offered me a joint right after “Breakdown”. Not just a toke, mind you, but an entire, unlit reefer. How often does that happen?
Too bad I don’t smoke weed any more. Good thing the wife does.
After introducing his six-piece band—which included drum ace Steve Ferrone in the spot vacated by original skin-basher Stan Lynch—Petty left the stage and Campbell took over with a wonderful instro-rock medley that featured an echoey homage to the Shadows and a few licks from Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane”. When Petty returned, he opened up a large wooden chest near the front of the stage, pulled out a black top hat, and started into the quirky 1985 hit “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, which ended with a high-powered strobe-light show.
My pupils are still achin’ from that one.
After almost two hours, Petty and the Heartbreakers said goodbye to the crowd of 10,500, then were called back for a two-song encore that suffered from a dragged-out version of “Gloria” but ended with the exhilarating high of “American Girl”. Apparently, that wasn’t enough for one overzealous male fan, who leapt on-stage, ran across to where the band was filing off, and bear-hugged Petty before being hurled to the ground by a roadie and dragged away in a headlock.
Now there’s somebody who could have used a big, relaxing puff on the doobie I turned down.