Words by: Joe Lang | Images by: Christopher Monson
Tom Petty and Steve Winwood :: 07.23.08 :: Target Center :: Minneapolis, MN
The pairing of '60s British psychedelic blues pioneer Steve Winwood and the American-as-apple-pie straight ahead Cadillac rock of Tom Petty is one of the stranger super star double bills in recent history. Petty's past engagements that matched the Heartbreakers with rockers like Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers Band and even Pearl Jam kind of made sense; all those acts embrace and appeal to the bravado of blue collar rock & roll. Winwood's work since Traffic all the way through to his new Latin direction has always stressed a more contemplative, emotive and nuanced jam-based sound. Petty is the Chevy pick-up to Winwood's VW van.
It was obvious as soon as Winwood and his band appeared whose show it was. As they slowly ambled to the stage with the house lights still on, the quintet was greeted with modest applause from the half-full arena. Winwood threw his hands in the air in a state of perplexity at the dead mic in front of him as his band got ready to kick off a set full of classics and tunes from his newly released African/Latin influenced masterpiece, Nine Lives. After getting the festivities under way, Winwood had no problem hopping on and off the Hammond and switching his guitar tones back and forth. From the searing high gain wailing Strat on new tracks like "Dirty City" and his furious soloing on the Traffic classic "Mr. Fantasy" to the dark and creamy tones on the hypnotic blues of "I'm Not Drowning" and Blind Faith classic "Can't Find My Way Home," the dynamic Winwood seemed comfortable and at home in any context.
Early in the set, the band played "Hungry Man," which found Winwood jumping the gun on the vocals of the final chorus - his only real slip up of the night. As the set unfolded, the band paced the tunes beautifully; along with the up-tempo burners, they had no problem grooving and laying back on tracks like the flowing "Fly." The ballad featured Paul Booth's warm sax meandering which was reminiscent of Jeff Coffin's work in the Flecktones. To make matters even more interesting, the vibe of the Nine Lives tracks featured heavy, percussion-laden arrangements that spilled over into well-worn classics; Winwood's new take on "Higher Love" sounds like he is channeling the throbbing, intervallic pentatonic grooves of Afrobeat master Fela Kuti. After just over an hour, Winwood and the gang threw down on his Spencer Davis Group classic "Gimme Some Lovin'" and exited to a standing ovation.
After the brief intermission, the house lights went dark and the group that would own the evening took the stage to thunderous applause. Lined up in front of Vox, Ampeg and Fender cabinets and wearing a velvet purple jacket and scarves, Tom Petty ripped into the chugging "You Wreck Me" from Wildflowers. Powered by Mike Campbell's SG licks and Petty's Telecaster, the song featured the leader dancing, strutting and generally hamming for the crowd and photographers. And from there on out, the man could do no wrong. Where Winwood's set resembled a tentative fighter feeling out the arrangements and grooves, Petty's set was a confident Muhammad Ali – brazen, obvious right hand leads landing hit after hit after hit.
Steve Winwood :: 07.23.08 :: Minneapolis, MN|
"Listen to Her Heart" followed and the band was almost overpowered by the crowd's sing-along as Campbell took a quick lead on his black Rickenbacker. The boys ratcheted up the heat again with the slide-punctuated "Won't Back Down," whipping the crowd back into frenzy. After the first of many standing ovations, they went old school for a minute and dusted off "Even the Losers." Petty thanked the adoring crowd over and over and announced that it was time for a slow tune. Again, the band served up another roundhouse with "Free Fallin'." Throughout the tune, the camera's scanned the crowd in some odd attempt at audience participation. Campbell took some twangy 12-string leads and Petty removed his jacket, evidently getting warmed up for the further onslaught of hits. Without giving the audience any time to breathe amidst the deafening applause, the band landed another sonic uppercut with "Mary Jane's Last Dance," complete with the song's trademark harp lines. Petty announced what would be a Traveling Willburys tune as they started into "End of the Line," one of the most pleasant surprises of the evening. But there would be no reprieve from the megahits from the Super Bowl darlings as "Breakdown" arrived, and again, the room exploded.
During "Breakdown," the band thankfully started to deviate from the predictability. The tune featured some interesting Les Paul soloing, and a big dynamic drop that allowed Petty to do a blues kind of scat singing into a call-and-response with the audience. The improvised singing culminated with Petty's shout of "Give it to me!" The Heartbreakers took little time in launching into the newer John Lee Hooker inspired "Saving Grace," finding Campbell on slide again, whipping up and down the neck of his guitar with abandon. As the dynamics shifted, space opened up for Petty to take his only true guitar solo of the night, a sort of minimalist pentatonic vignette.
Tom Petty :: 07.23.08|
When the band jumped into the tentative, slightly edgy "A Face in the Crowd" there seemed to be some sort of a mass exodus. Fatigued and parched from the unrelenting set, fans made a quick move to the restrooms, only to gleefully return for more sonic pummeling. Unfortunately, those who made the mad dash would end up missing the most sonically pleasing song of the night. "A Face in the Crowd," the brooding dirge from Full Moon Fever highlighted almost everyone onstage with slow dark slide runs and eerie piano punctuations.
The down and dirty "Honey Bee" came next with Campbell throwing down some ES-335 licks which was followed by another sing-along with "Learning To Fly." With the delivery of "Don't Come Around Here No More," once again to the crowd's delight, it became obvious how Petty would finish out the set: "Refugee," followed by an encore of "Runnin' Down A Dream." Close but not quite. Between the two mega hits, Petty inserted a cover of Them's (Van Morrison) "Gloria." And, of course, the band finished with "American Girl."
Could you complain about Petty's set? If you went to hear obscure, deep cuts, or surprises, yes. However, if you went for a greatest hits set delivered in perfect shiny fashion just like on the albums, powered by two teleprompters sitting in front of the man of the hour, then no. And judging by the craze at the Target Center, that's exactly the kind of musical knockout punch the fan's wanted.
Tom Petty :: 07.25.08 :: Target Center :: Minneapolis, MN
You Wreck Me, Listen To Her Heart, I Won't Back Down, Even The Losers, Free Fallin', Mary Jane's Last Dance, End Of The Line, Breakdown, Saving Grace, A Face In The Crowd, Honey Bee, Learning To Fly, Don't Come Around Here No More, Refugee
Encore: Runnin' Down a Dream, Gloria, American Girl
Tom Petty and Steve Winwood are on tour now, dates available here.
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