Tom Petty earns rapturous Pemberton Festival reception

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      Pemberton Festival - Day 2
      In Pemberton, B.C., on Saturday, July 26

      Amy Chin
      I’m here for N.E.R.D., Jay-Z, and Coldplay. Wolfmother was awesome. The highway was a mess. We waited for two hours between Whistler and Pemberton but The Hip was great, Tom Petty was great. I wish I had been in the Bacardi Tent though. I heard MSTKRFT was wicked.

      Brett Gagne
      I came here for Nine Inch Nails and The Tragically Hip. Nine Inch Nails was one of the best shows I’ll probably see. For The Hip I was right in the front, about three or four rows back. It was a pretty good show.

      Sita von Windheim
      I’m here to see all the bands, all three days. A couple of the bands I’ve seen before but most of them are new to me. Tom Petty was really outstanding, it was fantastic; he put on a great performance.

      RJ Umlas
      So far the three days have been awesome. I came here to see N.E.R.D. and they lived up to expectations. N.E.R.D. was my favourite show by far. I was in the Bacardi Tent last night and MSTRKRFT was the main act. It’s pretty much a club atmosphere in there with house beats. Waiting to get in was worth it.

      Day 2 of Pemberton Festival started eerily with a soundcheck echoing off the mountains, and remote bands of dirt-caked wanderers traipsing through the hay like the last survivors of the oil crash, their faces obscured by bandanas and their eyes hidden behind filthy sunglasses.

      If Brazilian Girlshadn't pulled themselves off the bill last week, Low vs Diamond might have played to an almost-empty field in front of the Lillooet Stage. Instead, with the band’s start time pushed back an hour, enough bleary campers and new arrivals trickled in to give the L.A. quintet the biggest crowd of its career—something that front man Lucas Field announced not once, but three times.

      Low vs Diamond turned in a fine inaugural performance for the day, winning pretty much everybody over with a U2 and Coldplay hybrid, which would be as detestable as it sounds if it wasn't run through with the proper amount of indie grit, especially during a tense and impressive "Don't Forget Sister".

      Mates of State, which is by far the superior outfit, barely survived its midafternoon 30 minutes on Lillooet, the smaller of the two main stages. Keyboardist Kori Gardner and girly-voiced drummer Jason Hammel were visibly distressed as they struggled to make their tricky overlapping vocals sound like anything other than an argument. "Like U Crazy"—which saw the duo joined by a small string section—at least managed to cut through the problems.

      The unyielding bass thump coming from the already legendary Bacardi B-Live tent wasn't helping Mates of State’s cause. Confirming the mini-site was ground zero for the festival’s party people, an enormous line began to form early and only grew bigger as the day wore on. Aside from the 12-hour dance marathon going on inside, the B-Live tent was the place to escape the heat, thanks to the ceiling-to-floor water fountains installed behind each of its three bars. It was also the destination of choice during a brief downpour, and further provided sanctuary when a vicious windstorm kicked up out of nowhere (which was particularly bad news for the tent cities in the adjacent camping areas).

      We can probably assume that Sam Roberts was responsible for that brief cyclone, since it rose and fell in time with the squalls of feedback he was tossing off at the end of "Brother Down" on the Mount Currie Stage. The shaggy Montrealer also managed to summon the freaks out of their hidey-holes. One gang of twirling wonders showed up in unitards and Pied Piper outfits, while another dilated crusty made his way through the thick crowd with a kite. Mercifully, nobody was decapitated.

      The abundant tang of grass surely helped, but the Pemberton Festival took a turn for the weird shortly thereafter. My Morning Jacket's Jim James gilded an already incredible performance by stalking up and down the Mount Currie Stage in a vampire cape, waving around a droopy little tree branch during "Wordless Chorus", and then woozily congratulating us on having a "beautiful hemisphere".

      Buck 65 could be heard on the Lillooet Stage, meanwhile, prefacing "The Centaur" by accusing either Sam Roberts or Gord Downie of taking a huge and hideous shit in the backstage area.

      When Downie himself mounted the Mount Currie Stage for the Tragically Hip's occasionally stiff and unwieldy set, he seemed even more hell-bent than usual on deconstructing his own music, whether it meant turning "Grace, Too" into a red-faced catharsis, or generally playing out an incomprehensible—although incredibly entertaining—private pantomime. Only Gord Downie will ever really know why he spent most of "Courage (For Hugh MacLennan)" spinning around on his ass with a hanky covering his face.

      There was a giant, man-driven mechanical spider making the rounds of the field and scaring the shit out of people just prior to a spine-tingling Black Mountain set on the Lillooet stage. Twilight was turning the sky gold as "Stormy High" kicked in, making for an odd contrast with the Mountain's mushroom-cellar vibe. A man keeled over during "Stay Free", hitting the ground with his eyes wide open, laying there for a brief, scary spell, and then just as suddenly coming to with an embarrassed smile. On top of everything else, Black Mountain can apparently raise the dead.

      Pemberton Festival, day two. Photos by Adam PW Smith.

      Sadly, the same can't be said for the Flaming Lips. Frontman Wayne Coyne sounded increasingly desperate in his efforts to rouse an audience that was starting to sag. Confetti cannons, enormous silver and orange balloons, and, most surreally of all, the Giant King Larvae and small nation of Teletubbies flanking the sides of the stage didn't seem to help either. Coyne at least appeared satisfied during "She Don't Use Jelly", having persuaded an awful lot of girls to climb onto their partner's shoulders.

      But Pemberton Festival was saving itself for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who fully earned a rapturous reception that would have come their way even if they'd stood there playing kazoos. Aside from his growing resemblance to the Shroud of Turin, the remarkable thing about Petty is the restraint he and his almighty band of gentleman demonstrate. Drummer Steve Ferrone sat bolt upright behind a tiny three-piece practice kit, not some monstrous, scaffolded assembly of unecessary toms and cymbals. Long-time Heartbreaker Mike Campbell issued brisk, heat-seeking one-fingered leads, and keyboardist Benmont Tench III and multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston both saved themselves for nothing more than the right sound at the right time. Even the set-closing version of “Gloria” was jammed out only so much. If there’s one thing the Heartbreakers understand, it’s economy.

      Mr. Petty led this wonderful unit through a two-hour set list that might have been drawn up by his fan club president, including "Listen to Her Heart", "Refugee", "Free Fallin’", and "Don't Come Around Here No More". He even threw in the Traveling Wilburys' "End of the Line". It was a euphoric finish to a day that was more up than down, quality-wise. All that remained was to find one of those “shower parties” that Buck 65 had so intriguingly mentioned earlier in the afternoon.

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