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TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS
Royal Albert Hall, London 20 June 2012
has always been something of an Anglophile: the Heartbreakers actually
made their first breakthrough in England during the punk era while still
establishing themselves back home; and he speaks highly of how the
British invasion of bands inspired him.
So it is
surprising and disappointing that they had not toured since 1999. But,
booked for the 2012 Isle of Wight Festival, they squeezed in a couple of
shows at the Royal Albert Hall, which, considering the band could easily
have sold out a venue two or three times bigger, unsurprisingly sold out
from Jonathan Wilson whose album had been described in the press as
channelling the spirits of the likes of Crosby Stills and Nash and
majority of his set, he was rockier than I expected with his band going
into a number of free form, but melodic instrumental breaks with twin
guitars and some Hammond organ, reminiscent of the brothers Allman and
Spirit' showed his more laid back side, and the final song 'Silver Moon'
also convinced. The long-haired Californian needs to work on his
diffident stage presence however.
With a Tom
Petty and the Heartbreakers show, the music is left to speak for itself:
they came on stage in a very low key fashion, the light show was simple,
and the show was devoid of spectacle or gimmick.
deliver one of the classic American rock songbooks with a tasteful and
almost effortless understanding, topped off by Tom's characteristic
laconic, slightly nasal drawl.
rather studied, polite start with 'Listen to Your Heart', 'You Wrecked
Me' and 'I Won't Back Down', their ensemble playing began to come to the
fore during 'Here Comes My Girl', while an early surprise was the
Travelling Wilbury's 'Handle With Care', with auxiliary musician Scott
Thurston making a fine fist at the impossible task of emulating Roy
Orbison's high parts.
change in their live sound compared to record is the additional scope
afforded Mike Campbell to stretch out and demonstrate that he is more
than just a tidy, melodic guitarist but a true axe hero. The bluesy
'Good Enough' from the last album Mojo and a supercharged cover of
Fleetwood Mac's 'Oh Well' were the first tangible proof of this. 'Don't
Come Around Here No More' had an epic feel, with Tom and Scott sharing
the vocals and gradually building in pace before Mike stretched out with
an extended solo.
paid tribute to the British acts that inspired him, there was the added
bonus of the ageless Steve Winwood making a guest appearance. The
combination of that soulful voice on classics 'Can't Find My Way Home'
and 'Gimme Some Lovin', where he and Benmont Tench played keyboards
together, and the most deluxe backing band available, made his ten
minute guest slot more entertaining than the whole of his headline show
I saw at The Roundhouse.
The set list
for me was a perfect blend of all ages of the Petty career; I did hear a
complaint there was too much from the post Wilburys Jeff Lynne albums at
the expense of earlier material, but that was when his popularity peaked
here and the likes of 'Free Fallin', which finally got a subdued crowd
singing along, and 'Learning To Fly' got perhaps the best receptions of
the odd cut though for diehards, including 'Something Big' and 'It's
Good To Be King', which started as a gentle number before becoming an
incredible extended guitar duel between Tom and Mike.
surprisingly late in the set, Mojo's 'I Should Have Known It' reminded
me of Black Dog and for a moment Mike might have been Jimmy Page before
the classic 'Refugee', introduced by Benmont Tech's trademark keyboards,
and 'Runnin Down A Dream' finally getting most of the crowd to stand up,
as the band stretched out, with Mike playing a searing solo.
encore was another treat with some brilliant combination play during
'Mary Jane's Last Dance', with Scott on harmonica and more guitar
workouts from Tom and Mike, before the inevitable set closer of
'American Girl', which was over all too soon though not before a crisp
solo from Mike, my man of the match.
Albert Hall does not lend itself easily to a rocking atmosphere, which
was a slight frustration, but this was still a richly enjoyable 2 hour
10 minute masterclass form one of the classic American bands. Hopefully
it will inspire them to resume their once regular visits to these
photos by Andy Nathan
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