Buy me a drink, sing me a song
Tom Petty, playing at his only UK date during his year long tour, closes BST Hyde Park
Review by Andrew Steel
“Have you got your mojo out there?” asks a luxuriantly bearded Tom Petty on the closing evening of the British Summer Time festival, in the heart of London. One of heartland rock’s greatest proponents, his sandpaper-licked voice and flyaway blonde hair remain intact after almost half a century of ruminating on love, loss and longing. There is a rarefied quality to his band the Heartbreakers’ Hyde Park debut – an exiguity of European performances makes this only the fourth time they have headlined a show in the UK since 2000. It is their only stop outside America on the group’s 40th Anniversary Tour too – a year-long jaunt widely expected to be their last major outing as a live force. No swansong is given however; instead, Petty and company approach two hours of music with a loose, youthful vigour that breathes fresh life into his songs.
Opening with the woozy boogie-bounce of Rockin’ Around With You – the opening track of their 1977 self-titled debut – the Heartbreakers dovetail both their own material and Petty’s solo work across a career-spanning retrospective, peppered with a spread of hit singles and fan favourites. They strike the balance well; the strident stomp of I Won’t Back Down expectantly stirring, the country croon of You Don’t Know How It Feels a tender lament. With the synth-driven You Got Lucky dropped from the US setlist, this is a concert propelled by guitar, of both the electric and acoustic variety; Petty and key foil Mike Campbell are as adept strumming the floating euphoria of Free Fallin’ as they are cutting loose on Don’t Come Around Here No More’s shamanistic psychedelia.
Not everything sticks; It’s Good to Be King sinks into a ten-minute muddy blues jam that drifts aimlessly across the Serpentine. But enough peaks offset the rare troughs; a mid-set cameo from support act Stevie Nicks for her Heartbreakers duet Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around; a near-solo Learning to Fly, stripped of its chugging beat for something delicately beautiful and enrapturing; a fiery Refugee. With such a response, it’s unsurprising that Petty seems reluctant to wrap up by curfew. “God bless ya, London!” he cries with a grin as his encore eventually clatters to a close with signature hit American Girl. If this is indeed a valedictory visit, it is an exultant sign-off to say the least; a last dance that feels like the first all over again.
Enquiries: BST Hyde Park