By Jennie Orton
August 17, 2017
Apologies to the always lovely Lumineers, who began their opening set with the bold choice of “Submarines” before taking us down the primrose path of optimism and romance that they have all but nailed as an esthetic; though your set was a peppy blast, the Petty show provided an epiphany that must take centre stage.
As a female reviewer, I am often at shows solo and am therefore at the mercy of many a drunken music fan who sees an unattended woman as found money. It is always a struggle to be left alone to enjoy the show and do my job but this show in particular provided a uniquely awful experience. The “gentleman” in front of me, already wobbling drunk before the lights for the main event even went down, took to being politely declined in his invitation to both hug and kiss me by telling me I was “too young” for this music and then repeatedly trying to grab my hands and legs. When the lights went down I felt legitimately nervous. Any woman knows the pain of having to pay attention to her surroundings when at a show when people on the XY side can just chill and enjoy the show. And this is when Mr. Petty and his Heartbreakers came to the rescue; with their brand of resilience and self-awareness, themes that are not owned by only one generation, and that have been exemplified by Petty his whole career.
As the very poignant “You Don’t Know How it Feels” took over the arena, and Petty grooved across the stage with his patented “just slipped into a hot tub” grin, your first glimpse of the man and his easy going approach to holding onto his own power gave me strength. Flanked by his arsenal of seafoam Fenders and sunburst Rickenbackers and his often-unsung band of steadfast gunslingers, Petty pulled us into a big weekend with a setlist seemingly curated from a road trip with a time-machine.
There were some surprises: we were treated to a “mini set” of songs from the pinnacle of perfection that was the Wildflowers album. Including the bolstering title track, “Crawling Back to You”, and “It’s Good to be King”. There were other favorites too, like “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, which enjoyed a jammy outro opportunity for the band to flex their rippling talents to the swoon of many a drunk middle-aged male in attendance. Another pleasant addition was the opportunity to “turn the amps up real loud” with “I Should Have Known it”, a very angry and deliciously mean ode to the remorse of the bamboozled off of the criminally underappreciated 2010 album Mojo.
Though Petty has been paying a very similar jam of favorites during this tour, there was a sense all night that he was calling tracks as he felt them; shaking it up on the spot like he was playing a club. This on-the-fly technique is only possible if you have a band as tight as the Heartbreakers. Mike Campbell is an ethereal megatron of a force on the guitar, pulling off rapid-fire solos that make a visibly well-worn fretboard sound brank spanking new. Steve Ferrone, introduced by Petty as “the new guy who’s only been with the band 24 years” killing it on the drums and the occasional maraca, joined by the mad scientist on the bass Ron Blair and Scott Thurston with his many hats. And when Mr. Tench is on the bench, I want to be the piano.
But the man we all were watching was Petty. As he gave us the out of control freight train of large hits to close out the night, “Yer So Bad” into “I Should Have Known it” into “Refugee” into “Runnin’ Down a Dream” into “You Wreck Me” and then closing out with the always amazing “American Girl”, you could see him not lose steam but gain it. You could visually watch him attain freedom from his music. This, of course, is the man who took ownership of his own artistic rights back in 1979 by declaring bankruptcy to free himself from his sketchy label-friendly contract; one of the many of its type that indebted artists to their label with huge advances and little to no artistic control. It was a pioneer move used by many since to free themselves from music business oppression. He then held his album, the indelible Damn the Torpedoes on which “Refugee” itself lives, to prevent the label from overpricing it on his fans. Because the rock n’ roll fountain of youth that Petty slips into up to his neck every day is a kingdom that should be available to all of us; and it’s good to be king.
Available to all of us, sir: the young AND the girls out there with a tatt-too too. And so to the grabby hands I encountered at this show let me say this: don’t pretend you don’t know that behavior like that should never be a thing. I saw you Instagramming the show when you should’ve been watching Tom Petty so I know you have the net. You better get woke, cause for all us girls who are crazy ‘bout Elvis, and all those boys who play that rock and roll, this is what life is all about. You can stand us up at the gates of hell but we won’t back down. And in this age of fights for supremacy and exclusion, now more than ever we all need a night out together where we can be ourselves. But what do I know, I’m just a girl.Rogers Arena, The Lumineers, Tom Petty, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers