wed 28/06/2017

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Royal Albert Hall

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Royal Albert Hall

Four-decade career celebrated in epic live show

Tom Petty, a little more avuncular after all these years

Back in Britain for the first time in 13 years, Tom Petty and his indestructible crew seemed delighted to be playing at the Albert Hall, and taken aback by the frenzied reception from the audience. They have a soft spot for Blighty, since this was where their debut album first started making waves in 1977 after being initially ignored in the States, but their long absence seemed to have had the effect of turning them into long-lost legends. Peter Bogdanovich's epic documentary about the band, Runnin' Down a Dream, has probably played its part too.

Petty himself, now bearded and almost avuncular where he used to be punky and mean, took the helm with practised authority, but there's been a kind of power-realignment within the Heartbreakers. Guitarist Mike Campbell has always been Petty's indispensable right-hand man, but now Petty is describing him as "our co-captain", and Campbell is given far more space to cut loose with his exotic battery of guitars. The Heartbreakers were always renowned for the meticulous economy of their sound, but sometimes it could feel like a limiting factor. Now, they're willing to lay back and stretch out instrumentally, as they did in a powerfully funky version of "Mary Jane's Last Dance" or a mesmerising "Don't Come Around Here No More", while Campbell's lead playing would give Jeff Beck a run for his money. Even Petty treated himself to some noisy forays on his Telecaster.

They couldn't have picked a better opening number than "Listen to Her Heart", a vintage slice of electric clang in the Byrds/Searchers mould and one of the best of the Heartbreakers' early songs. Behind the entwined guitar chimes of Campbell and Petty, drummer Steve Ferrone set about nailing the ensemble to the floor with a crushingly huge beat, with assistance from bassman Ron Blair, now restored to Heartbreakerdom after abandoning ship in the Eighties. As ever, plaudits were frequently due to Benmont Tench, the quiet one at the edge of the stage who's perpetually adding swarms of fine detail on piano and assorted keyboards. Over on the opposite side, Scott Thurston handled extra guitar, vocals and harmonica (Mike Campbell and Steve Ferrone, pictured above).

The band have gone through all kinds of phases in a career lasting not much less than 40 years, and they picked their way carefully through some of the milestones as well as some of the less well-remembered moments. From Hard Promises, for instance, they'd rescued "Something Big", and enhanced its noir-ish aura with a grimy raunchiness absent from the recording. "Free Fallin'", a solo Petty hit, is tricky to play because there's lots of space with not much going on in it, but the band deftly added texture and perspective to Petty's evocative lyrics. "Handle With Care", from Petty's Traveling Wilburys days, had brushed up nicely, while in "It's Good to Be King", the band counterpointed the acid tone of the narrative with a mounting sense of menace and unease, Tench and Campbell coolly passing the ball back and forth.

It wasn't an entirely retrospective show either, since a couple of songs from the recent Mojo album stood their ground in the teeth of the awesome back catalogue. Indeed, the fragile and haunting "Something Good Coming" was one of the standouts of the night. But they couldn't get away without playing "Refugee", lit up by Campbell's fat, rasping fills, or "American Girl", which they saved for the very end. Petty saluted the crowd as it erupted into the umpteenth hysterical ovation of the night, and Campbell looked as if he was shedding an emotional tear or two. I daresay he wasn't the only one.

  • Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers play the Royal Albert Hall on 20 June and the Isle of Wight festival on 22 June

Watch video of Petty & the Heartbreakers playing 'Something Good Coming'

 Follow Adam Sweeting on Twitter

Comments

Not quite 20 years - I saw them in 1999 when they touched down briefly at the Shepherd's Bush Empire - but it has certainly felt like it. I wonder if they will revisit more frequently after that reception last night. I am glad Adam picked up on Something Good Coming, which shows Petty has not lost his songwriting chops (even if parts of MOJO are formulaic). It also showcased his voice, which is as emotive as ever when it needs to be. Scott Thurston deserves a mention too for his flawless harmony vocals. An awe-inspiring show.

Well spotted, windfall. Dates adjusted accordingly. Too long an absence, anyway.

Definitely too long! Thanks for a great review. I was going to post one on a music forum where I hang out but ended up making a few brief comments and linking to your review, which summed up the night perfectly.

following this fantastic show, I got chatting to a couple of middle aged guys queing for the toilets. Typically, one of them had never heard ot TP and the Heartbreaker's, and had come along as he was invited. It was the best concert he'd ever seen, which is par for the course in the UK these days. I have always been perplexed by this as the man is immense, not only for he and his bands incredible musicianship, but for the no nonsense integrity which makes him a rarity in today's music scene. It seems every time I have told someone who I was going to see at the great hall of Albert, the response has been "who"? If you are one of the many unfortunate people who have never ventured to a heartbreakers concert, I urge you to check out the various DVD's or concert footage available for viewing on certain uploading sites. Tom Petty maybe 61, but he and the Heartbreakers sound as good as ever, and in my opinion, with Steve Ferrone on the sticks, better than ever.

Very well said stantini, very well said. Your comment pretty much sums up the whole TP thang. A friend of mine said later that every song of Petty's sounds like a classic. I couldn't agree more. I happen to know Ferrone and I was delighted that that he should be thumping the tubs for 'ol TP. An absolutely excellent choice. I must also say that the sound was possibly one of the best I've heard at the RAH - a notoriously difficult 'room'.

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