Words: Peter Walsh
Photos: Bríd O’Donovan
Tom Petty came to Cork for his first gig here this weekend and with his band of Heartbreakers, won the hearts of a packed Marquee.
Rising star (and man who was spotted wandering around the big top with local legendary resident Roy Harper before the gig), Jonathan Wilson, had the crowd warmed up nicely by the time Petty and co. arrived onstage to a heavily expectant audience.
Opening with a solid rock groove, a grinning Petty sang the refrain from ‘Listen to Her Heart’ (“she might need a lot of loving but she don’t need you”) and remained in ‘getting to know you mode’ until the opening chords of the third tune, when the crowd erupted and cheered him on through ‘I Won’t Back Down’.
A slow, sweet ‘Here Comes My Girl’ followed and the gig was building up nicely. When he dedicated ‘Handle With Care’ to “the other Wilburys, wherever they may be traveling”, he’d won us over. The Roy Orbison vocal was carefully handled by the ever-smiling Scott Thursten on rhythm guitar (who looked like a strange crossbreed of Keith Richards and BP Fallon).
Six tracks in, the gig gathered wings as they launched into a high-speed, southern boogie version of Muddy Waters’ blues classic ‘Mannish Boy’, followed by a Dylan-esque ‘Something Big’ from ’81′s Hard Promises album, complete with duelling guitars between Petty and the legendary Mike Campbell. Petty playing the slower licks was the perfect complement to Campbell’s guitar gymnastics, and for all the latter’s musical prowess, it was Petty’s picking that moved me most.
‘King’s Highway’ was next and then the moment many of the crowd were waiting for. It was fists in the air and smiles all round for the classic anti-love song ‘Free Falling’. A restrained rendition of ‘Learning to Fly’ kept us in sing-along mode soon after and when he stopped singing and turned the mic to the audience, parents sang along with their kids and barely a voice seemed out of tune.
A jaunty ‘You’re So Bad’ kept the crowd singing and reminded me of the pop gems in Petty’s canon.Then it was back to good ol’ hard rock mode, with a bluesy ‘It’ll Be Alright This Morning’ from 2010′s Mojo album, bringing shades of Zeppelin to my ears. (In fact, if I squinted, I could almost kid myself it was Page & Plant before me – what with a blond, guitar-less Petty and the long, dark locks of Campbell
At this point I have to praise the Heartbreakers. I knew they were good, but they are without doubt one of the finest bands I’ve seen. Musically, they tick all the right boxes – the drummer and bassist solid and relentless in their rhythm, the head of Benmont Tench bobbing over his piano, the effervescent good vibes from Thursten and the transcendant solos of Mike Campbell.
Tom Petty himself does just enough talking to connect with the audience tonight, but keeps the tracks following fast on each other. He made my night almost complete when he played one of my personal favourites, a soaring ‘Refugee’ from Damn the Torpedoes. The band went into overdrive with a blistering ‘Running Down a Dream’, again with great duelling guitars from the two axemen. Looking at the intensity on the faces of the band, you could tell they were well into it. They left the stage to a thunderous ovation and only made us beg for a few minutes.
An encore of ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ and ‘American Girl’ were all we were gonna get, though we cried for more. To sum it up in one small phrase, pure rock ‘n roll.