Sunday, June 1, 2008

Going to the Palace to listen to the radio

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/Steve Winwood, May 31:

Here's how the Grand Rapids Press summed up the concert from the night before: "Lead guitarist Mike Campbell has never been better, Benmont Tench proved he may be the most tasteful keyboard sideman in rock, drummer Steve Ferrone solidified his standing as the Heartbreakers' perfect drummer, bassist Ron Blair stayed out of the way while providing rhythmic thunder, and multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston showed off his considerable vocal skills. At 57, Petty has never seemed more comfortable in his stage skin, whether stretching his arms out like a bird to strut across the stage or getting bluesy on 'Saving Grace' or revving up an already revved-up crowd on 'American Girl' to close out a killer encore.... Even the eye-catching, tree-like stage and lighting set-up, with multiple video screens, cubes and a colorful lighted curtain backdrop, ranked as one of the most creative in Petty's tour history."

Oh yeah, and there was the warm-up act: "Steve Winwood delivered one of [his] strongest performances, [mixing] material from his latest album, Nine Lives, with hits ranging as far back as the '60s with triumphant, crowd-pleasing renditions of 'I'm a Man' and 'Gimme Some Lovin' ' (which he first recorded at 15), not to mention faves from his years with the eclectic, psychedelic Traffic and solo hits such as 'Higher Love.'"

Saturday night in Auburn Hills, Steve Winwood had the crowd screaming for well-loved songs from his Blind Faith, Traffic, and Spencer Davis Group arsenal. At 60, his voice sounds no different than it did at 15, and this cat can play a mean guitar solo, too. It was clear that the headliners had limited his access to the sound system and the lighting, but his hour-fifteen set was still energized and awesome.

Then came the main attraction. Tom Petty may be the only performer out there who moves entirely in slow motion. Literally. His lips and fingers move in standard time, but everything else about him is slo-mo. The word you'll see used most often to describe Tom, the human being, is "mellow," but that doesn't capture the time-delay involved in the way Tom, the performer, drags his boots across the stage, lifts his arms to conduct the band, bows to his drummer to close out a song, or any other physical movement. Everything half speed.

Music? Note-perfect to the CD versions of every song. Not a single change in tempo, phrasing, solo length, anything. It was like listening to the radio, and with Scott Thurston (wearing a gray suit) glued to his rhythm-guitarist spot at stage far right, Ron Blair (wearing a gray suit) never moving from his spot in front of the bass amp next to Thurston, Ferrone and Tench (wearing a gray suit) nailed to their instruments by necessity, and Petty sort of gliding slowly from one place to another, that pretty much left some impressive lighting and the admirable soloing skills of Mike Campbell—who did move, visibly and perceptibly—to serve as the visuals for the radio sing-along to the Greatest Hits package:

You Wreck Me
Mary Jane's Last Dance
I Won't Back Down
Even The Losers
Free Fallin'
End Of The Line
The Waiting
Saving Grace
Face In The Crowd
Learning To Fly
Don't Come Around Here No More
Runnin' Down A Dream
American Girl

Hmmph. A six on the zero-to-ten scale.

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