Petty works his Mojo at MTS
By Darryl Sterdan
Winnipeg Sun - June 20, 2010

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers | June 19, MTS Centre | With Joe Cocker | Sun Rating: 4 out of 5
Something old, something new, something borrowed and plenty of blues.

No, there wasn't a wedding — but Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers did achieve a near-perfect union of musical styles and eras during their Saturday night gig at MTS Centre.

Playing the downtown arena for the second time in 24 months and armed with tunes from their first new album in almost eight years — not to mention more than three decades of radio-rock standards and staples — the veteran California sextet held 10,000 rambunctious fans in the palm for the duration of a well-paced 115-minute set.

"It's great to be back here," remarked the 59-year-old Petty, looking dapper in a blue velvet suitjacket, his recent beard trimmed back to a demonic goatee. "We've got quite a lot of songs to play for you tonight, so I'm gonna get right to it."

And get right to it they did. The singer-guitarist and his quintet — leather-clad guitar technician Mike Campbell, laid-back bassist Ron Blair, fedora-topped keyboardist Benmont Tench, drummer Steve Ferrone and utility player Scott Thurston — frontloaded their 18-song set with sure winners like the jangly Listen to Her Heart, the slow-burning You Don't Know How it Feels and the defiantly chugging I Won't Back Down, which sparked the first audience singalong of the night.

With his waist-deep catalog of hits, Petty doesn't need to go overboard on the bells and whistles. And he doesn't. Sure, he came equipped with the now-standard eye-popping multi-media show — the stage was topped with a pair of concentric lighting rigs, ringed at the front by half a dozen horizontal video screens displaying the individual band members, and surrounded at the rear by another two dozen vertical screens used mostly for graphics. And yeah, there were superbly programmed lights and a quartet of tastefully deployed lasers. But compared to the previous night's Carrie Underwood spectacle — which featured a motorized, multi-tiered stage set, a massive tree branch with a swing, and a flying pickup truck — this was old-school. As was their gear: The stage was packed with more classic amps than the world's coolest pawn shop, while Petty and Campbell boasted an apparently endless guitar arsenal of vintage Fenders, Gibsons, Rickenbackers and, of course, Petty's trademark teardrop-shaped white Vox.

And they put all those strings to good use. After finishing off their opening hit-parade quintet with Free Fallin', the band kicked it into second gear with a ferocious version of the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac classic Oh Well, followed a couple of songs later by the roots-rocker Drivin' Down to Georgia (a relatively unknown cut from last year's Live Anthology) and the bruising Breakdown, with Petty improvising some extra vocals during the middle section.

With 50 minutes of goodwill under his belt, the Florida-born rocker finally got down to new business, leading his band through a four-song mini-set drawn from their blues-based Mojo CD. In keeping with that title, Petty worked it like the old pro he is, introducing every song beforehand and profusely thanking the crowd afterward. To his credit (and my surprise), the bulk of the audience didn't use the new songs as the usual cue for beer runs and bathroom breaks, but instead stayed to listen. They were rewarded with the hard-driving Jefferson Jericho Blues, the 6/8 shuffle of First Flash of Freedom (which included some stellar dual-guitar work from Thurston and Campbell, the latter playing a replica of the sunburst ’58 Les Paul that inspired the album), the tangy Running Man's Bible and the British blues-rock blast of I Should Have Known It.

After 25 minutes, however, Petty returned to the songs that need no introduction. Learning to Fly brought the bulk of the crowd to its feet. Don't Come Around Here No More — which evolved from the understated tune we're all familiar with to an overwhelming barnburner — kept them there. Refugee sent them into a frenzy. And the three-stage encore of You Wreck Me, the Bo Diddley-inspired Them chestnut Mystic Eyes and the strummy Runnin' Down a Dream sent them home happy.

If that response was anything to go by, Petty and co. can come around here as often as they like. And they can bring Joe Cocker back with them. The British blues belter opened the night with a 75-minute set heavy on ’60s and ’70s hits like Feeling Alright, The Letter, Cry Me a River and You Are So Beautiful. Personally, I would have rather seen Drive-By Truckers (who are opening for Petty on his next leg of dates), but there's no disputing that Cocker's set was a massive hit with the crowd. And you have to credit Petty for giving his opening acts (in 2008 it was Steve Winwood) enough time to play a full set — and take an encore.

That's what Joe would call getting by with a little help from your friends.

Set List:
Listen to Her Heart
You Don't Know How it Feels
I Won't Back Down
Free Fallin'
Oh Well
Mary Jane's Last Dance
Drivin' Down to Georgia
Jefferson Jericho Blues
First Flash of Freedom
Running Man's Bible
I Should Have Known It
Learning to Fly
Don't Come Around Here No More
You Wreck Me
Mystic Eyes
Runnin' Down a Dream