1981. By all accounts, that was the last time Tom Petty had played in Montreal. Was it worth the wait? To the more than 8000 faithfuls at the Bell Centre, it sure was. Taking a page from his classic Pack Up the Plantation live album, Petty and the Heartbreakers opened their show with a cover of The Byrds’ So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n Roll Star, then kicked right into Mary Jane’s Last Dance. Then followed the first of four cuts from their latest album Hypnotic Eye, the angrily distorted American Dream Plan B. (cleverly, a digital download of the album was included with each ticket, which meant that everyone was familiar with the new material) The new material went over great with the crowd (it helped that they were spaced out over the course of the evening), and comfortably sat alongside the classic Petty material. The band stretched their musical legs on a cover of Baby, Please Don’t Go, and about one third of the way in, the double punch of I Won’t Back Down and Free Fallin’ got the biggest reaction of the night.
The Heartbreakers were in fine form, especially guitarist Mike Campbell whose effortless soloing wailed over the tight rhythm section (not the most smiling fellow though). The very compact stage configuration probably betrays an affinity for theatre shows over arenas (and the grand piano blocked the view for many up front) but it also allowed a sense of intimacy that is often lost in these big buildings. The band was loud, but the sound (at least up front) was crystal clear and let afficionados appreciate the tones of the vast amount of vintage guitars used during the course of the 2 hour performance.
Another highlight was the more intimate arrangement of Learning to Fly that turned the Bell Centre’s crowd into honorary Heartbreakers singers while Petty improvised over the chorus. The show ended with Refugee and Running Down a Dream, before the band came back for a 3 song encore that featured another excellent cover, this time (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone by Paul Revere and The Raiders, as well as You Wreck Me and American Girl to end the evening. The 2 hour concert covered Tom Petty’s career pretty well (I just wished he’d done the Travelling Wilbury song he was playing up until a week ago) and made up for the long absence. Now, let’s not wait 33 years for the next one, because, let’s face it, he’s not getting any younger (He’s 63). Judging by the people around me, a good chunk of the crowd can’t wait that long either.
Opening up the evening was legendary singer Steve Winwood. Backed by an awesome band (the drummer was really grooving, and multi-instrumentalist Paul Booth impressed on keys, vocals and sax), he played a lot of “vintage music” as he put it. Going back to the repertoire of his former bands Traffic, Blind Faith or Spencer Davis Group (and a Buddy Miles cover), he played a solid hour of well loved tunes. His voice has lost a little bit of high range (he struggled to hit the high note in Higher Love cleanly), but his voice is still as wonderful as it ever was. His interpretation of Blind Faith’s Can’t Find My Way Home got him a standing ovation from the crowd who treated him like a headliner.
I’m a Man
Them Changes (Buddy Miles cover)
Can’t Find My Way Home
Low Spark of High Heeled Boys
Dear Mr. Fantasy
Gimme Some Lovin’
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star
Mary Jane’s Last Dance
American Dream Plan B
Baby, Please Don’t Go
Into the Great Wide Open
I Won’t Back Down
A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)
U Get Me High
Yer So Bad
Learning to Fly
I Should Have Known It
Runnin’ Down a Dream
You Wreck Me
(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone
He's also a regular contributor at the very rad site Montreal Rampage
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