Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Three decades later, Tom Petty still has it

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at Air Canada Centre in Toronto, on Tuesday

Closing out the winning night with one of the biggest of his "big jangle" hits, the sleepy-eyed Floridian could have changed the lyrics of American Girl to suit the crowd's nationality, without even corrupting the meter of the line. He didn't though, and never would - not the dug-in troubadour, not the roots-rock traditionalist. The beard suits Tom Petty, but pandering would not.

As well, Petty and his loyal Heartbreakers, with no new album to advertise, could have treated the full-house to a greatest-hits gala. Again, it wasn't to be: A concert that began with an arena-sized flourish - You Wreck Me, the stoned southern-rock of Mary Jane's Last Dance, the Springsteen-lite of I Won't Back Down and the bright melancholia of Even the Losers - mixed in lesser known numbers. Sweet William ("a cool little song") and 1994's Honey Bee were assertively bluesy; Spike, from 1985's Southern Accents, had a J.J Cale-shuffle to it; the swampy chug and gurgle of Saving Grace featured the precise, long-time lead guitarist Mike Campbell on slide.

Story continues below advertisement

Petty's goal with the Heartbreakers, who released their self-titled debut album in 1976, was to create a blend of graceful, Rickenbacker folk-rock with an earthier R&B swagger - The Rolling Byrds, if you will. More than three decades later Petty still has the Roger McGuinn-like nasal whine, memorable choruses and Vox amplifiers, but what has served him best is his masterly amiable songwriting. The man's catalogue bulges with crafted classic-rock staples. For every Free Fallin' and Learning to Fly and Refugee timelessly rendered at Air Canada Centre, there was a Breakdown or Don't Do Me Like That or Into the Great Wide Open left on the tour bus.

Nothing off Petty's latest work, the 60s-tinged Mudcrutch revival, was heard either. But that side-project, and this performance, testifies to his staying power as a record-maker. "He's a great songwriter and has been since the beginning of his career," Randy Newman once said of Petty. "He's remained consistent. Not all of us have."

Preceding the main act was another legendary figure, Steve Winwood, the onetime blue-eyed boy wonder of British blues who now offers highly-skilled, percussive jazz-rock in addition to his soulful classics and '80s commercial hits. His keening, uniquely shimmering vocals still intact, Winwood, on Hammond organ and electric guitar (persuasively used on Dear Mr. Fantasy), covered material from his new album Nine Lives and freshly painted versions of Blind Faith's Can Find My Way Home, I'm a Man and a Trinidadian rework of Higher Love.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers play B.C.'s Pemberton Festival, July 26; Winnipeg, Aug. 9; Calgary, Aug. 11; and Edmonton, Aug, 12.

Set List:

You Wreck Me

Mary Jane's Last Dance

Story continues below advertisement

I Won't Back Down

Even The Losers

Free Fallin'

Honey Bee

Sweet William


Story continues below advertisement

End of the Line

The Waiting

Saving Grace

Face in the Crowd


Learning to Fly

Don't Come Around Here No More



Runnin' Down a Dream

Bo Diddley's a Gunslinger/ Mystic Eye

American Girl

Report an error
About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at