Posted in music

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Royal Albert Hall, 18 June 2012

Mike Campbell, wigging out in Oslo

Going to gigs these days will always make me feel old. Even if I’d taken my daughter to see Taylor Swift (it was a school night, so we didn’t), I’d have felt like an old man.

Taking the kids to see Tom Petty was no different. It was a school night, but we went anyway, to the first night (the extra night) at the Royal Albert Hall. For merely the price of a family holiday, it was a good night out.

There were a lot of men and women of a certain age there, with a few younger faces. Looking at the grey hairs, the fatties, the baldies, I kept having to remind myself, not that I was a young man surrounded by oldies, but that I was looking into a mirror.

I’d never been to the RAH before, and did think it was a good venue, with nobody sitting so far away that they didn’t get a good view. We were in the stalls, section G, at the side of the stage, and it’s one of the best views I’ve ever had at a gig, in spite of the fact that we weren’t face on. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll never be one of those people in the front few rows, the ones who get to catch all the plectra thrown into the crowd. Not for the likes of me, like most of the things this country has to offer.

The only thing about the RAH is that it’s miles from anywhere. Doesn’t warrant its own tube station, and you have to walk about a mile to get something to eat or drink that isn’t at venue prices.

This is an expensive night out, and I know I shouldn’t go on about the money, but it bothers me. The £65 per ticket is fair enough: that’s how bands make money these days, accepted. £20-25 for a t-shirt, same thing. But the £5+ booking fee (per ticket), the train fair, the fact that you’re in Belgravia and a round of soft drinks is going to be almost a tenner, it felt like I was shedding £5 notes behind me as I walked. We walked down to a pub called The Goat that offered fish and chips if you could find a table. It was decent enough, although without the tartare sauce, the curry sauce, and all the other condiments, surprisingly bland. So that was another fifty notes.

The standard irritations of a London gig weren’t absent. It started during the support act, the Jonathan Wilson band. Of course the venue remained mainly empty, which is a shame (because they were quite good), but I’d rather that than the other thing, which was the couple next to me who came in, late, with their drinks, making a lot of noise, and proceeded to continue a conversation at TOP VOLUME (because, you know, you have to SHOUT to make yourself HEARD when a BAND IS PLAYING). I tolerated it for as long as I could, even offering to swap places with my wife, who might prefer me not to start a fight. But she said she could hear her just as clearly.

So in the end, I yelled, “YOU KNOW, IF YOU TALK REALLY, REALLY LOUD YOU CAN ALMOST HAVE A NORMAL CONVERSATION.”

Which shut them up.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers arrived on stage, on time, and played the kind of set that only a group of musicians who have been together for 40 years, more or less, can play. (Petty met Benmont Tench in ’68 and Mike Campbell in 1970.) They don’t leap around too much, but they play tight, with truly great musicianship.

When you can start your set with stuff like “You Wreck Me“, “Here Comes My Girl”, and play crowd pleasers like “I Won’t Back Down,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, “Free Fallin'”, a Traveling Wilburys number, a Peter Green song, and  “Learning to Fly”; and when you can bring the set to a head with a blistering “Refugee”, and then come back and deliver “Mary Jane’s Last Dance“; when you can do all that, and you can still pull out “American Girl” to wrap it all up? Well, that’s entertainment.

It was clear that the audience responded more to songs from the 70s and 80s more than they did the more recent Mojo tracks, but then I think that’s at least partly because TP has not toured the UK for 15 years or so. There was a tremendous warmth in the atmosphere, and a sense that the band were enjoying themselves and responding to the crowd. The interplay between Benmont Tench (in his nest of keyboards), Mike Campbell, and Tom Petty was as excellent as ever, and Scott Thurston’s backing vocals are a real asset. Mike Campbell just gets better and better, but Petty played some good guitar, too.

A great occasion, and worth every minute of lost sleep on a school night.

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World famous writer labouring in obscurity. My other blog is a Porsche.