Petty's Mojo

When Sound + Vision splashed Tom Petty’s still remarkably vital mug across a recent cover it caught my attention. Inside, across 12 pages, they basically anointed his new record Mojo, as disc of the year. So Petty’s blues record, one that was a long time comin’, is the best album of 2010? No offense to Mike Mettler and Ken Richardson, both of whom I consider friends, but the whole thing seemed like a stretch to me.

Last weekend, I went to see the bluesman Tom Petty for myself at an outdoor shed in Pittsburgh. I was accompanied by my nephew who’d never been to a rock concert before and so was wide–eyed throughout most of it. I was wide–eyed when I saw the price of the Petty concert t–shirts: $40.00. Now C’mon Tom! I understand that you aren’t making money off record sales anymore thanks to piracy and the decline of physical media but Jesus! Forty Bucks! And $65 for a sweatshirt! The only thing more amazing than the prices was the amount of people paying them. Damned near everyone in our row of seats had at least one. Me, I took a pass. Springsteen would have to be in the t–shirt for me to pay forty bucks.

The other weird vibe at this gig was the whole shed system which means they damn near strip search you at the gate but then once you’re inside there are like 25 stands selling beer and drinks for semi–inflated prices. The crowd at a shed show is so much more intoxicated and ultimately, once they’re on the road, dangerous, than any concert crowd back in the day when they didn’t sell beer and basically looked the other way while you sneaked in a couple of 16 oz cans of warm Strohs. This new way—hey if you get caught drunken driving it’s your problem—is corporate American at it’s worst.

The opener was the Drive–By Truckers who were playing their last in a series of opening dates on the Petty tour. Their three guitar, crunchy/folky, Skynyrd–meets–Indie Rock thing was going full bore and the crowd, who usually wait until the headliner goes on to take their seats, actually filed and got into it. The Trucker’s leader, Patterson Hood, clearly has a frontman personality and there were several places in their set where I thought of the Allman Brothers, only with one drummer instead of two.

Then on came the old master. Grandly bowing after every tune, his lace sleeves billowing, he managed to shake his behind at the women in the crowd whenever the spirit moved him. The butt shaking brought back a vivid memory from the tour when Petty opened for Dylan in late 1980’s (when Dylan had a Gene Simmons–like black leather suit with wings). I took a now ex–girlfriend whose jaw dropped to the floor when Petty came out. “Jesus Christ he has a fat ass,” she exclaimed. I’ve never looked at Petty or his ass the same way since.

Lardy ass or not, TP is still a rock star. Even my nephew could see it. Mike Campbell too. With Petty and Campbell, you forget just how many songs they’ve written, how deep their catalog is until you see them live and they begin playing them one by one. “Refugee,” “Listen to Her Heart,” and “American Girl,” were all done very well by the current version of the band that contains four of the five original Heartbreakers—Petty, Mike Campbell, Ron Blair, Benmont Tench (but no Stan Lynch). Despite an ill–advised turn towards AC (adult contemporary) in the late 1980’s, Petty and the band can still bring it; or at least they did last week in the Burgh. The funny part about the set that is perhaps the night’s best tune was a cover of the pre–Nicks/Buckingham Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” where Petty and the great Mike Campbell—and I do mean great except perhaps for that very odd bald on top, dyed dreads on the side look he’s currently sporting– teamed up for a killer version of that old Peter Green stop/start classic which in rock lore is clearly the inspiration for Led Zep’s “Black Dog.” Petty played maracas while Campbell wrestled his guitar through the changes. My nephew perked up considerably after this and began making noises about Campbell being a great guitar player. The newer, bluesier tunes like “First Flash of Freedom,” Jefferson Jericho Blues,” and “Running Man’s Bible” all came off surprisingly well. But is it the record of the year? It seems to be that it’s way too early to tell.

From Petty To Paulie. Just a few words about Sir Paul’s Gershwin Award night at the White House with the Prez and first family in attendance. I usually skip this kind of thing but this one is so worth watching.

I’m not a Jerry Seinfeld fan but his riff on Paul’s “husband” songs, a list that concluded with “Ahh, Just Let It Be!!! was pretty genius.

Elvis Costello, whose hairline seems to have it’s own mysterious agenda, my god what forehead! did a credible job with “Penny Lane.”

The Lava Lamps on the side of the stage were a nice touch.

Paul’s band was killer. Rusty Anderson and Brian Ray, McCartney’s guitar players were wonderful and drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. who’s toured with Clapton, Stevie Winwood and Les Paul and Lady GaGa (whaaa????) is easily one of today’s best all–around drummers.

I thought the best performance of the entire evening was Dave Grohl who nailed “Band on The Run” while playing a beautiful light blue Fender Coronado. Having huge portraits of George and Martha Washington watching over the proceeding from the back of the stage gave the whole thing a very surreal air. The less said about the performances of Jack White and Lang Lang the better, but in general the energy that all the performers threw into their performances was extraordinary.