01 July 2012
What a complete joy to be returning to the Royal Albert Hall for the second of Tom Petty & The Heartbrekers' sold out nights at this legendary venue. There are only two real mysteries - what will Jonathan Wilson do - the same set as before? And which of the couple of alternate songs from this tour's set lists will Petty and the band be doing tonight. Simply because I love it, I'm hoping for 'Don't come around here no more' again. So whilst there's little anticipation of great surprises this does offer more time to reflect on this band - and that they have emerged as one of the great bands of the last forty years.
It's strange to think that when their swaggering attitude heavy brand of rock first hit the scene they were often swept up as one of the "punk bands". And as the night of songs will be studded with Petty solo album cuts it's curious to see what an effect Jeff Lynne has exerted both on Petty and later on the whole band. As well as being Petty's band mate in the Wilburys, he was his producer on "ull Moon Fever' - it seems more than odd now that its songs were considered to be "not Heartbreakers material". Only a few short years later the Heartbeakers would happily embrace the same musical stances as these two side projects - and you might think "well, this is just youth giving way to maturity" - except Petty was already 26 when the first Heartbreakers album appeared, and was pushing 40 by the time of 'Full Moon Fever'. Echo and Last DJ saw the band sensibly stepping back from the live fast - grab a girl - have a good time - ethos of their earlier material; it's bizarre that these excellent albums didn't push the band into a global giant status akin to R.E.M. And now their latest album, 'Mojo', sees a reconnecting with rock's (and the band's) roots - or at least to the nineteen-sixties reinterpretation of the electric blues into something wild with a deep groove.
Opening act was once more Jonathan Wilson, dressed down in a cardigan tonight and, initially at least, playing his fifty minute set to a far less full Royal Albert Hall. Apart from a couple of moments of unplanned feedback the set went much as Monday - but it seemed that the audience whilst being sparser were also less attentive. The opportunity of repeat listening only served to enhance the appreciation of this excellent band, and they'd made, by the end, at least one convert to their laid back / heavy hippy-vibe. Not that that was going to be so very difficult to achieve.
There was growing tension as the appointed hour approached. Could Petty and the band pull another scorching two hours out of the bag? Well, they were given plenty of encouragement to do so - if Monday's roar of approval for them just putting foot on the stage was loud then tonight's was louder by far and from those first ringing chords and opening words "you think you're going to take her away / with your money and your cocaine" it was clear that everything was going to be just fine. There was lingering audience restlessness and much initial to-ing and fro-ing to the bar or smoking areas or somewhere - who knows? Add in sporadic attempts in the flat seated arena to stand and remain standing and there was a very different feel to the hall.
The set progressed exactly as on Monday - Scott Thurston showed off his excellent Roy Orbison impression on "'andle with Care'; the reappearance of 'Oh Well' was a thrilling surprise and again it was perfect - Steve Ferrone is some drummer. Everything was going to plan when 'Don't Come Around Here No More' also reappeared, although something went wrong at the end - surely the strobed coda went on far longer on Monday? Well, if it was cutback it was to allow Petty to reminisce about the effect the British Invasion bands had on him and the rest of the Heartbreakers, and how they were sometimes lucky enough to play with their heroes....like Steve Winwood. Throwing it down on pure Blind Faith, Winwood led the Heartbreakers through 'Can't find my way home' and followed this up by taking a stance behind Benmont Tench's Hammond Organ for 'So glad you made it' - the hall exploding with glee and, you know, after this there was no going back to a seated audience!
And so it was the old slow creep along the side aisles, down towards the stage, past this tall person, past another one and one step forward, another and another until eventually the security guy gives up - he keeps five feet of stage side as his domain, but the rest is ours. Now you can see the band close up - and without a doubt everyone is having a good time. They mostly let Petty himself do the dashing around the stage until, fit sixty year old that he is, even his eyes look a little tired, but at the same time there is a gleam of fire in them. And when you’re up and bopping about songs like 'Yer so bad' take a more fitting place in the set list - where on sedentary Monday they seemed odd choices. Strangers flit by, heading one way or another, but with enough time to tell you "it's brilliant, isn't it? Isn't this a great gig?" And it is, it truly is.
'Refugee' takes the crowd over and pulls them this way and that as they vociferously agree that "it doesn't really matter to me" and that no-one "has to live like a refugee". And as we move into the extended applause to get our encore there's the realisation that - even with the special guest - nothing has been cut, it's going to be the full two hour set and some more. 'Last dance with Mary Jane' rips by again to lead to those special chiming opening notes of 'American Girl'. And it's Petty at one end of the stage, Campbell at the other both close enough to touch, if that's the way you're inclined - although Petty isn't the messiah, he's just a very naughty rock 'n' roll boy. The rest of the band producing an epic wall of sound befitting this mini-masterpiece, this three minute gift of a perfect song. "Oh yeah / all right / take it easy baby / make it last all night" - well, they've given all they're going to give, given all they can. Fifteen years away from these shores, I think we can safely call this a triumph.
- Listen To Her Heart
- You Wreck Me
- I Won't Back Down
- Here Comes My Girl
- Handle With Care
- Good Enough
- Oh Well
- Something Big
- Don't Come Around Here No More
- Can't Find My Way Home (with Steve Winwood)
- Gimme Some Lovin' (with Steve Winwood)
- Free Fallin'
- It's Good To Be King
- Something Good Coming
- Learning To Fly
- Yer So Bad
- I Should Have Known It
- Runnin' Down A Dream
- Last dance with Mary Jane
- American Girl