The Petty Archives

Rexall Place, Edmonton | June 16, 2010 | ★★★★★
By Mike Ross
CANOE - June 17, 2010

EDMONTON - In a world of fakes, poseurs, pretenders, show-offs and grossly inflated concert ticket prices for all of the above, Tom Petty stands apart.

Well, four out of five ain't bad. The good seats to the big show at Rexall Wednesday night were $150 -- which is, to coin a term that mentally challenged people aren't using anymore, "retarded."

What a rip. He didn't even blow anything up. And where were the giant plasma TV screens embedded in the levitating drum riser? Where was the levitating drum riser? And while we're at it, where was the squad of break-dancing back-up singers whose lip-syncing was so perfect you'd swear it was real? Nowhere, man.

Bang for one's buck came entirely from the music. What a novelty.

Seriously, if anyone was complaining about the ticket prices last night (certainly not as retarded as some of the shows coming up), they would've been drowned out in a non-stop Tom Petty singalong.

The thunderous cheers that followed Don't Back Down --the first of many well-known hits to come -- were even louder than when Nickelback blew a bunch of blue flames a few weeks ago. Backed by his awesome Heartbreakers band that got tighter, dirtier and meaner as the night roared on, Petty himself seemed blown away by all the adulation, prompting him to call us a "lovely bunch of people." He probably says that to all the towns. Then came such roots-rockin' goodness as Free Fallin' and Last Dance With Mary Jane and Refugee and Running Down a Dream and the lovely people -- 10,800 in attendance last night -- lost their minds. Several times.

Like all classic rockers who want to avoid going insane, Petty and his boys insisted on doing a couple "from our new album" -- that being a record called Mojo, fresh off the presses. The singalong basically ended at that point, and the show hit a bit of a lull, but the tunes were interesting enough to prove that Petty hasn't lost the gift of songcraft that made him such a big deal to begin with. One sounded like a two-stepping hoedown, complete with screaming harmonica riff. And a trippy power ballad called First Flash of Freedom that evoked the Doors, featured such couplets as "fistful of glory/suitcase of sin" and showcased an old-fashioned double lead solo from guitarists Mike Campbell and Scott Thurston. Don't hear that sort of thing too much anymore. Why? Because it's really hard to do.

Petty, a humble man at heart, thanked the crowd for allowing him to play some new material, and rewarded our patience with hits held in reserve.

The singalong resumed to end the set proper with Refugee, featuring another blistering Mike Campbell solo. Even in music as unpretentious as Tom Petty's, there is a proper time and place for showing off -- and that would be at the end of Refugee.

And special effects? OK, they had some cool lasers and a bank of nifty video screens. Those things are expensive. And all these musicians --five guys with Petty, another eight with opening act Joe Cocker.

Great players don't work cheap, either. So sure it was worth it. Happy?

Joe Cocker has a reputation as the most gruff of the blue-eyed soulmen, and at 66, he's not about to let that title go.

The man still can still unleash three or four good phlegmy belts per tune, and still play a pretty mean air guitar, air piano and air drums while he's at it, though he's starting to resemble a white Redd Foxx.

No matter. Just close your eyes. Joe does when he's really into it, and he really is. The biggest Woodstock moment last night arrived with a throat-curdling scream in With a Little Help From My Friends, his signature version perhaps even more well known than the Beatles'.

A crisp eight-piece band pumped out a rich, full sound for a set that included everything you'd care to hear from Joe Cocker -- from Feelin' Alright to Up Where We Belong. He's still the master of getting tough with a tender song.

Or should that be the other way around?