Top StoriesTom Petty and the Heartbreakers Return to Ottawa with 40 Years of Rock!

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Return to Ottawa with 40 Years of Rock!

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Return to Ottawa with 40 Years of Rock!

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Photos by Andre Gagne

“Without a shadow of a doubt, Tom Petty and the Heartbreaks know how to rock,” Ottawa Citizen Writer Bill Provick penned in his 1981 review of the Florida band’s July 20, 1981 show to 7,000 fans crammed inside a scorching Civic Centre. The waiting would indeed prove to be the hardest part as it would take 36 years for an encore engagement.  The rock, thankfully, remained the same.

With grey clouds moving fast across the river and memories still fresh from Friday night’s early rain soaked stoppage to RBC Bluesfest, the thousands streaming through the gates were hoping Petty and company had brought along some of that Florida sunshine to LeBreton Flats. While they wouldn’t quite get that wish, the weather held off it’s lighting this night, at least, ensuring the only Heartbreakers were the one’s up on stage.

“I feel a little mojo working up in this place,” Petty said with a wide smile, stepping back to take in the adoration of an audience who’d been waiting awhile for this.

Mojo? It was more like somebody finally turned the pressure relief valve in the right direction and an audience who'd been clamoring year in and year out to bring this band back to Capital were finally letting off some pent up steam. Petty milked every drop of it, moving towards the mic as though to begin the show but then stepping back again as the cheering intensified.

Yeah, they’d waited this long. What’s a few moments longer?

Fan Jamie Austin was fine with this. He'd traveled from Peterborough to see the show, after all. He told Ottawa Life before the show that he expected it to be a show everybody would remember for a ling time to come. While he'd only seen the musician himself live once before, he first discovered Petty’s music in his teens when he swiped an album from his brother. An understandable crime.

“He’s just one of the best singer-songwriters in the world and he’ll just keep transcending different generations and living on,” he said, unfurling a 40th Anniversary tour blanket.

Local musician Mark Charron couldn’t agree more, adding how Petty’s music influenced his own. He’d seen the band before but this time out he had his two-year-old niece along for her first concert experience.

“We have her here celebrating her birthday but they’ll be people here up to their 90s today,” said Charron. “Tom’s music just speaks to everyone. There’s a truth in it and there’s so much of it to play.”

With 16 albums, an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 18 Grammy nominations and 40 years of music where do you begin?

If you’re Tom Petty and the Heartbreaks the obvious answer was at the beginning with the show kickstarter going all the way back to 1st first cut on the band’s self-titled 1976 debut. The set then jumped ahead 17 years to Petty’s early 90’s hit “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” before shifting into his second solo release Wildflowers for a chance to sing-along to “You Don’t Know How it Feels”. With a chorus that suggests one rolls another joint, gauging from the puffs of smoke and the smell, the audience didn’t need much prompting.

“Tonight we’re going to look at the show kind of like it’s a huge, one-sided LP, and we’re going to drop the needle wherever we want all through the show,” Petty said, explaining random selections like “Forgotten Man” mingling about with more known material. The veteran knew when to pull out a hit urging the audience to join him in singing “I Won’t Back Down”.

He wouldn’t have to ask them on “Free Fallin’” or his 1985 hit “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, the ladder making use of backup singers Charley and Hattie Webb last seen here on tour with the late Leonard Cohen.

While the sisters received a glowing introduction, Petty’s long-time bandmates Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench and Ron Blair were given their own spotlight as the show paused for a brief check-in to the Heatbreaker Hotel. Each room was populated with a story or amusing antidote about how the band’s first line-up formed in Gainesville back in the mid-70’s.   

“I love you,” shouted an overenthusiastic fan during Petty’s walk down memory lane.

“You know, it’s nice to hear that from a woman for once,” quipped Tom, saying he’d come on down and hug everybody if he could. “Well, maybe not you, sir.”

Petty would then return to Wildflowers for a mini-set of three songs from the release before telling the crowd it was time to turn the amps up again for “Yer So Bad”. Outside the festival fence a party had formed. Yup, they were dancing in the streets. One group of fans had to get closer and torn down the curtain near the emergency exit so they could at least catch a glimpse of the show on the big screen. Security, who have had their hands full a few times this festival, opted to stand aside and forgive a minor infraction in the name of rock and roll.

“Thank you so much! You’ve just given us a great gift tonight,” said Petty as the show drew to a close with the track that began his Civic Centre show in 1981: “American Girl”.

Oh yeah! Alright! Make it last all night!

Of course it couldn’t but here’s hoping this Canadian crowd doesn’t have too long a wait until the next time Tom decides to rock the Capital.

Rockin’ Around (With You)
Mary Jane’s Last Dance
You Don’t Know How It Feels
Forgotten Man
I Won’t Back Down
Free Fallin’
Don’t Come Around Here No More
It’s Good to Be King
Crawling Back to You
Learning to Fly
Yer So Bad
I Should Have Known It
Runnin’ Down a Dream

Your Wreck Me
American Girl

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