Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Vancouver gig shows time is catching up with the rockers

At GM Place on Tuesday, June 8

Man, I gotta quit living in the past, because my expectations are just too damn high. Two of the greatest concerts I’ve ever seen were Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Commodore in 1978 and then Petty again—with Bob Dylan—at Berkeley, California’s Greek Theatre in ’84. Both shows left me totally drained and in awe of the elevating power of rock ’n’ roll, so that now whenever I hear the words “Tom Petty live” I perk up like Pavlov’s pup at the sound of a bell.

Tom Petty spoiled me rotten, I have to say, but now it seems like the party’s over. Not that his show at GM Place sucked, because Tom Petty could never suck: his songs are too good and his band too tight. But time is catching up with the 59-year-old rocker, and seriously sapping the spark that once made him brilliant on stage.

And would it have killed him to play a few more hits?

Petty took to the stage in the casual garb he’s known for—including blue jeans and cowboy boots—and started things off on a winning note with 1991’s “Kings Highway”. It took no time at all for his crack band—lead guitarist Mike Campbell, bassist Ron Blair, keyboardist Benmont Tench, rhythm guitarist/pianist/harmonica player Scott Thurston, and drummer Steve Ferrone—to transform into a well-oiled machine that then headed down the road with the rambling (in a good way) “You Don’t Know How It Feels”. When Petty crooned “let’s roll another joint” the jay-smokers in the crowd took it as their cue to light up, so they were soon in the right frame of mind to enjoy the super-catchy “I Won’t Back Down” from Petty’s first solo (i.e. non-Heartbreakers) album, 1989’s Full Moon Fever.

“I’m gonna do this song for all the young lovers out there,” Petty proclaimed while introducing another Fever hit, “Free Fallin’?”. Then he and long-time picker Campbell laid some seriously jangly Rickenbacker action on that gently rocking number before Petty grabbed a pair of maracas and Campbell donned a Sunburst Les Paul for Peter Green’s late-’60s riff-rock classic “Oh Well”.

One of the best-received songs of Petty’s two-hour performance was “Breakdown”, the slinky hit from the Heartbreakers’ self-titled ’76 debut. The crowd seemed totally up for a taste of his early work, but Petty refused to linger long there. It would have been great to hear ’70s gems like “American Girl”, “Magnolia”, or “Listen to Her Heart”, but it was not to be. He didn’t play any songs from 1978’s stunning You’re Gonna Get It! and only one from his breakthrough album of ’79, Damn the Torpedoes.

Instead of giving the people what they wanted, Petty played half a dozen songs in a row that nobody knew, tracks from his upcoming release, Mojo. The new stuff was impressive—especially the cosmic, grooving “First Flash of Freedom” (which incorporated the use of green lasers) and the pulsating, bass-driven “Running Man’s Bible”—but the audience seemed a little cowed by the overdose of alien material. By the time Petty grabbed a black acoustic guitar and started strumming the familiar chords of the poignant “Learning to Fly”, the crowd was itching for something recognizable, and it celebrated the reconnect by singing joyfully along on the chorus. The ever-thankful Petty rewarded their patience with the quirky pop ditty “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and—apparently picking up on the intense psychic vibes I was sending out—the exhilarating “Refugee”.

For a little while there, the party was back on—and raging.




Jun 9, 2010 at 10:29am

Yeah, Tom the Human Jukebox didn't live up to yer expectations. Sorry about that. Might behoove the Straight to send someone a little (a lot?) younger to the next Petty show who isn't saddled with all the high hopes Newton had.


Jun 9, 2010 at 1:17pm

Agreed. The Heartbreakers first 5 albums are better than anything he's done since the mid-80's. it's a shame that we didn't hear any of it. awesome show nonetheless.


Jun 9, 2010 at 2:06pm

OK, so they played half a dozen new songs, but isn't that what bands do when they have a new album out? Play songs from it? Just because they're living legends doesn't mean they should have to spend all of their set in the past.

I thought it was excellent, and you can't compare a show in hockey arena to a 30-year old gig the Commodore.


Jun 9, 2010 at 3:31pm

Yea I thought the show was very good. You can't expect him to play all hits. Go listen to his new album Mojo. It leaked today.

(I feel I deserve it after spending $40 on a freaking t-shirt at the merch table)

Alex Gortan

Jun 9, 2010 at 7:47pm

First of all, an hour of Joe Cocker is enough, we did not need a 3 song encore and a 30 minute break, before Petty came out. Talk about boring. At least Joe Cocker, makes Petty seem younger by comparison.

Secondly, if it wasn't for Petty's new stuff (that was very interesting), I could have closed my eyes and thought I was listening to Tom Petty's greatest hits album.

The mistake Petty made was not mixing up the old and new very well. Just going heavy on the old for the first half (which is so overplayed to begin with-yawn), then too heavy on the new and unknown songs for the last half of the show, that lost all of the people wanting to do a Tom Petty "sing along". Needless to say, I enjoyed the second half more then the first.

There were obviously different expectations at this show, given the range of people in the crowd. Like the frat boy next to me scearming out "Zombie Zoo" over and over (Yes, I had to remind myself why I was there).

If Petty balanced out the play list better, there would be less complaints by far.


Jun 9, 2010 at 8:41pm

I think we were all sending out the vibes for Refugee at the same time. Good thing we combined our psychic powers
Great review.
Those new songs were great, but they would have sounded more dynamic if he had mixed them in more with the classics instead of in one lump in the middle.


Jun 10, 2010 at 4:08am

Oh, seems you can never do right. In 2006/2008 people were annyoed you were just re-playing the Greatest Hits album and now they critisize the lack of hits...
@Steve Newton: Please tell us how many million times the "hit single" Magnolia sold back in 1978? What chart position was it at?


Jun 10, 2010 at 11:29am

RHR, everyone that bought a ticket to a show on this tour gets to download the album for free anyways, go to his website... It's good that you feel entitled to free stuff though.

Loretta Hughes

Jun 10, 2010 at 12:56pm

The Tom Petty concert was great. He was awesome and so was his band. I loved all of the songs - new and old. It was a wonderful concert. Tom Petty is a humble and gracious man. I loved the way he turned on the lights so that he could see his audience. Tom has a way of making you feel special.

Alicia Rae Light

Jun 12, 2010 at 2:08am

Great show, definitely too much new stuff all at once though... I think my crew was falling asleep at the point and we woke up to one of them playing air guitar to 'Refugee.' All around, good night out, but could have definitely used a few more of those old school hits!