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Photos by Julia LeConte.
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TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS at the Air Canada Centre, Tuesday, August 26. Rating: NNN
"We're gonna play as long as we can until they throw us off tonight," said Tom Petty after he and his five Heartbreakers opened with So You Want To Be A Rock 'N' Roll Star and Mary Jane's Last Dance. "Call your babysitter and tell her you might be late."
Petty may have been using that line for some years, because most of his tucked-in-golf-shirt audience are passed the point of having babysitters (some of their college-aged kids were there, too). Nevertheless, he kept his promise, delivering a satisfying, two-hour-long set.
Perhaps it was the simple set-up (the stadium's never looked more like the Horseshoe), but somehow the ACC seemed intimate. There weren't any set pieces, just the band themselves and a white sheet draped behind.
Instead, their resources went into something far more important. Two guitar techs were onstage the whole time - mostly hidden by the band - twiddling and tuning away and handing over a new instrument every one or two songs, it seemed. Great, since most deviations on Petty's classics came via psychy guitar solos.
Petty also dutifully performed a couple tunes from his new record, Hypnotic Eye. During Forgotten Man, the sound cut out for almost the entirety of the song. Rockers have thrown perturbed hissy fits for less than that. But even as they rocked on seemingly unaware, you knew that it wouldn't be a thing. Petty exudes a good-natured "shit-happens" kind of vibe, like nothing could phase him.
"Can you hear me now? Sorry about that, it's all electricity after all," he said afterward. It's this comfort and affability onstage - and of course, the stellar catalogue - that make up for the fact that he and the band exert as little energy as possible. Tastefully embellished classics like I Won't Back Down, Yer So Bad, and Free Fallin' (everybody sang along) just flowed out of them like it was the most natural thing in the world. "This song is absolutely all I remember of 1991," said Petty before Into The Great Wide Open. Too easy.
The night's only missteps - a slow, acoustic version of Rebels, and a weirdly delicate rendition of Learning To Fly which nobody else seemed bothered by - were compensated for with some of his more rocking hits, Refugee and Runnin' Down A Dream, late in the set.
A lengthy encore (Don't Come Around Here No More, You Wreck Me and American Girl) kept the band true to Petty's initial promise. They gathered at the front of the stage at 11 pm, bowing collectively to a 10,000-person-strong ovation.