Walking down to my local cassette shop which was beside the petrol pump and opposite Archie’s hot dog stand, off Charring Cross road in Ooty, South India, I remember glancing past the Nirvana and Pearl Jam covers and seeing a decidedly browner cover: Tom Petty, Wildflowers. Growing up in India away from the Western Media (evil whore) and wrapped in blankets of precious moments, one doesn’t come across an awful lot of new music. When a cover jumps out, you splurge your 40 rupees on it and give it a chance.
Back home, ejecting my Smashing Pumpkins tape to make place for the new addition to my collection, I pressed play. Wildflowers came on. Rather airy. Rather un-grungey. Rather fantastic. From then on the listening got deeper into the albums that came before, but everyone needs their entry point. Wildflowers was mine, and I still love listening to that record once in a while.
I walked the 20 minutes from the apartment to Frognerbadet, home to the yearly Norwegian Wood Festival which in its past boasted names like Dylan, Lou Reed, Cash, Bowie, etc. Got my passes and wandered in on a gloriously sunny day with at least half the crowd there early to catch Lenny Kravitz. Not exactly the same spill-over crowd as would listen to Tom Petty, but I suppose Lenny has enough hits under his leather belt to please even the most sober Norwegian (not that there were any there). I first headed over to the Fender stall to talk with Ola Geir and sip a touch of coffee to waken my slouching mind. There was a TV there showing the football. Genius!
The smoke began to pour out onto the stage, the crowd moved closer, people kicked over 70 kr beers while scurrying down the hill like challenged fawns, popcorn lay murdered all over the grass, and the band came out. First off the horn players and Lenny’s guitarist who looked like a midget version of Howard Stern, then his bass playing chica, before the man himself walked in with that swagger that we would have expected. Sunglasses moulded to perfectly fit his face, scarf tossed on in that I-don’t-care-what-it-looks-like-yet-spent-40-minutes-getting-it-perfect kind of way, skinny jeans and his dreadlocks a long forgotten mistake of his past. The band opened with a song I was not familiar with, probably that formula where bands play one new song people don’t really care about early on and save the hits to intersperse between the songs they have emotional connections with but the audience just wants that sing-a-long factor. It must break their hearts.
True to form, he launched straight into a barrage of old classics to warm up the very jolly crowd. “Always on the Run”, the mega-hit “American Woman” which appeased the audience to no end with their ample opportunities to sing a long, bleary eyed and replete of all self-consciousness. They were further enticed when he spent a good 4 minutes praising Norwegian summers and explaining that Tom Petty had given him his first ever opening slot on a tour, so he was eternally indebted to the man and was sure to give him a huge hug later on. “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over” flowed out next, ladies cuddling their men and lonesome ghosts standing under tree’s waving hands at imaginary clouds, “Mr Cab Driver” brought the vibe back up again, although it ended in an unfortunate Festival-routine of wanky trumpet solos and the end to most peoples buzz, that over-powering sense of shame that propels people to evacuate their bowels or empty their bladders. True to form, vast hordes of people standing on the peripheries chose this opportune moment to take a slash or scoff a hotdog. I peeped in at the tent and saw that France were up 2-0. Bastards.
To further distance the crowd the jamming gave way to a quasi free-jazz spunk fest with Lenny tapping a tambourine and even the most shitfaced of attendees stopped dead in their tracks wondering what planet they had been transported to. This, however, the one chance where most people would realize there was a keyboard player on stage as he is given his 2 minutes to stun the audience with the ability he has, that nobody really cares about. Session musicians need to understand, they are there to make the artist look good. Not vice-versa. The jam ended with a colossal cheer, not for the music though, but because Lenny took off his sunglasses.
“Black and White America” made way for “Fields of Joy” as the crowd began to get agitated. Then the heavy hitters came out to soften the load. “Stand By My Woman”, “Believe” which seemed to take most people at least 40 seconds to realize the song and then erupted in a rather late “YEAAAAAAH” which must have sounded odd to the band, and ironically enough as he was singing “If you want it you got it, you just have to believe”, the sun came out again in all its glory. “Stand” followed, with lots of on stage banter about how he would continue for 2 hours if Tom Petty wasn’t playing next (Thank God he was), “Rock Star City Life”, “Where Are We Runnin?” went down generally ok, before he fucked the crowd good and proper with “Fly Away” and “Are You Gonna Go My Way” ending in a blaze of solos and hair. The crowd went nuts. Summoned from their afternoon stupor they gathered enough lucidity to face the stage and attempt to join both hands in a clap.
Back to the tent for football, except for a cheeky Thai Spring Roll (which was the frozen supermarket kind, baaah!), then a quick stop off at the Press Tent to charge my iPhone.
Almost exactly on time, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers took to the stage, decidedly older, but far cooler than the previous act. Tom was beaming. The sun was shining. The crowd swelled to maximum proportions, each reveler carrying 5 beers which would probably only last for the first two songs. That’s probably the only way you can run a festival in Norway without going minus. These people drink like fish. “Listen to Her Heart” opened the most highly anticipated return to Norwegian shores for over 20 years, the audience mesmerized by the sprightly pensioner parading on stage as if he was half his age.
Next up “You Wreck Me” peeled out of the PA with it’s solid beat bringing back memories of India and childhood. It would have been a perfect moment if a drunk Swede with small dreadlocks, skiing sunglasses and a filthy cap hadn’t touched my ass and then grabbed the guy in front of me’s ear? Why do some people come to festivals? Just to drink beer? He looked like the kind of amoeba who listens to Incubus. Not someone who should be ruining a Tom Petty show for people who care about him. After the women beside me gave no indication of shutting up with the squawking tones I did the only right thing and found a great spot beside a small tent where there were less people, and the kind who actually looked like they were there to enjoy the show.
He ploughed through “I Won’t Back Down”, “Here Comes My Girl”, and a Traveling Wilbury’s cover: “Handle With Care”. The band were all fluid and controlled and genuinely seemed to be enjoying the fact that they were playing on such a beautiful stage looking out above the crowd at huge trees. Tom himself repeatedly thanked the audience in that way that didn’t sound contrived or forced. He exuded a sense of humility and genuine gratitude, which further cemented the relationship between idol and follower. “Good Enough” gave way to a great cover of Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man” to which Tom commented afterwards, “That was a cover of Bo Diddley, but I’m sure everyone knew that”. I’m guessing the arse-grabbing, ear-fellating Swede thought Bo Diddley was in Charlie’s Angels.
“Something Big” from Hard Promises broke through with that toe-tapping tempo that caused thousands of beers to be held aloft while people shuffled in their grass roots, heads nodding, hearts beating in time. Yoda’s (Scott Thurston) background vocals harmonizing perfectly in that off-key kinda way. Mike Campbell‘s guitar work flawless as is expected, and Steve Ferrone solid and steadily keeping it all together.
“Don’t Come Around Here No More” bled in with it’s Indian inclinations, the video camera man scrambling to capture an image of keyboardist’s fingers plonking along. Then it was time for the song that even non-Tom Petty fans had some emotional attachment to, and it was visible in the soulful sing-alongs and random dances under trees that ensued from the first few chords of “Free Fallin”. A 50 year old man dressed like Dr John’s junkie cousin stood beside me with thick rimmed glasses that made his eyes appear as tiny dots on a bloated, rotund orb, arms aloft, singing in that way that you don’t really know the words but want people to think you do, swinging around, trying to grind on a 19 year old girl in front of him, who subsequently spilled all her beer on his jacket, turning in spirals towards the sun and deliriously unaware of what a prat he was.
It actually made a hilarious spectacle, and only added to the joy of the show for me. Next up was the only other song he pulled from the Wildflowers album: “It’s Good To Be King”. Choooooon.
Worked through almost identically to the album, except for the extended guitar mutterings at the end which turned into a half-jam. “Something Good Coming” was almost a prophecy for some people since “Learning To Fly” broke in calmly and in good taste. The band were exceptional, all finely tuned from years of touring together. The friendships were evident in the mood on stage as well as what was projected to the audience. Slightly falling into the category of what would be expected from a Tom Petty show, there were no huge surprises, but after 20 years absence from the land people want the hits, and he delivered.
I had to leave after “Learning To Fly”, and walked out with the weather still holding, and a lot of happy faces standing still, in awe of a living legend out on a summer night in Oslo. It truly was a special concert, one that I won’t forget for a while, partly due to the fact that I was sober, which I of course amended for later on in the night, in true Oslo style.
All photos by Morgan Flament. http://www.morganflame.com/