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.
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.
You Wreck Me
Mary Jane's Last Dance
I Won't Back Down
Even The Losers
End of the Line
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