Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
- With Crosby, Stills and Nash
- At the Air Canada Centre
- in Toronto on Wednesday
It is known: Anyone venturing into the bayou had better take a mojo offering with them. So, Thomas Earl Petty, who sometimes looks to the great wide open and the liberation of free-falling but other times takes to the swamps, overjoyed a full mass of humdrum-world escapists at the Air Canada Centre. With an air of ease and ripened poise, Petty and his long-time band the Heartbreakers dominated the arena, offering classic-FM singalong rock and murky backwater Florida fare to a crowd who knew the drill. There was rarely a dull moment; often it was superb.
And did Petty bring to the party Mojo, his recent album of southeastern jam-blues? Oh my my, to borrow one of his lines, oh hell yes.
Petty, a 59-year-old artist of significance, presented himself initially as a dignified, hippified southern gentleman of some weird Confederate era: His defiantly blond hair was worn long and parted straight down the scalp, his flattering beard was darker, and a long, funky blue overcoat suited him fine.
His sleepy nasal voice was low in the mix for the jangly Listen to Her Heart, and much of the early-set songs were marked by the overmuscle of a thudding kick drum. "We've got a list of songs to fit in," Petty said, after his glad-to-be-here spiel. "So we're gonna get right into it."
In a recent interview, Petty said he had no interest in playing the role of a jukebox. Possibly he meant he would continue to record new music, or perhaps he referred to the adding of wrinkles to old favourites. Such as I Won't Back Down, which came with an attractive synthy keyboard sheen, adding a distinctly eighties feel to the solo hit single from '89. The excellent guitarist Mike Campbell, who would be introduced later by Petty as the band's "co-captain," pitched in with a winding slide solo. Breakdown was hazier and sprawled languorously, with a call-and-response component stretching things even further.
If Petty comes by his blues naturally, his influences wouldn't seem to stretch back to the Son Houses or Muddy Waters of the genre. The rugged psychedelic blues Oh Well covered Fleetwood Mac. Jefferson Jericho Blues, from the new album, had a shuffled Allman-esque groove, complete with a double-lead guitar bit by Campbell and Petty. I Should Have Known It unabashedly (and not unsuccessfully) saluted Led Zeppelin.
Petty brought his mojo and his blues, but his tunes as well. The evening, which began with the sagging spectacle of Crosby, Stills and Nash embarrassing their legacy with unbecoming harmonies, ended with a chugging, dynamic rendering of You Wreck Me. "Tonight we ride, right or wrong/ Tonight we sail, on a radio song." And that's exactly what had happened.