“The next song is a request,“ Tom Petty tells the crowd at London’s Hyde Park, dressed in an oversized red shirt and black waistcoat before wisecracking: ”It’s actually me that requested it. The 65,000-strong crowd didn’t mind as the rocker launched into a rendition of “Forgotten Man,” a track from his latest record Hypnotic Eye (2014), the majority belting out the lyrics just as readily as his decade-old classics.
After a hectic string of US dates celebrating Petty’s 40th year with rock band the Heartbreakers, the 66-year-old was happy to be back on British turf and it showed. “We are celebrating our 40th year together so we’re gonna look at this show like a giant record, and we’re gonna drop the needle all over it,” he drawled with rock’n’roll gusto. He made good on his promise, delivering a set-list that appeased the casual fans and aficionados alike.
Careening about the stage, Petty grooved to the beat of “You Don’t Know How It Feels” with a mischievous grin on his face. While no match for Springsteen’s ebullience, Petty sure made up for it in musical heft, hammering away at his guitar as the Heartbreakers worked away at their respective instruments around him blowing reveller’s moans of Hyde Park’s sound issues to oblivion.
Extended versions of beloved tracks rippled through the summer evening (“Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “Yer So Bad”) while the deployment of signature track “Free Fallin’“ was beautiful in its simplicity.
Stevie Nicks, who branded the main attraction “her favourite rock star” in an earlier support performance, joined the grinning hero midway through his show. “We’re gonna do one we know… sort of,” Petty quipped before the two icons duetted on “Stop Dragging My Heart Around“ indicating Barclaycard’s British Summer Time festival may have saved its best for last following a week of performances from Justin Bieber, Kings of Leon and The Killers.
But this was Petty’s show and, backed up his freewheeling Heartbreakers, he refused to let the intricacies of his best-loved tracks get lost in the night sky. Admirable assistance was present in the form of backing singers Charley and Hattie Webb, a sibling duo who previously toured with the late Leonardo Cohen. At the heart of Petty’s rock ‘n’ roll gold mine, not even they could be stopped from head-slamming to “Refugee” towards the set’s climax.
Proving his crowd-commanding prowess with “Learning to Fly,“ a song he co-wrote with ELO’s Jeff Lynne in 1991, Petty clearly relishing having such a large audience in the palm of his hand. He returned to the stage for an encore as quickly as he left it ending the evening with a performance of “American Girl” that somehow sounded fresh off the record backing up his earlier promise.
The crowd may have been in the presence of Heartbreakers, but not one soul left Hyde Park without a smile on their face.