Gig: British Summer Time, Hyde Park. 9th July, 2017.
Last week, I had the immense pleasure of seeing one of my absolute idols Stevie Nicks in real life at BST, as well as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Spoiler alert – it was brilliant.
BST is something I wasn’t really aware of before I turned up at the gates that morning. Dan found the gig, booked the tickets, and I was just along for the ride to be honest. I’m pretty disappointed that I haven’t heard of it before now, as BST has got to be one of the best curated musical events of the summer. Across several days, the line-up had everything from Bieber to Blondie, so the 80s, pop, punk and indie were all accounted for. I wish we’d gone full hog and splurged on tickets for the day before as well – Elbow and The Killers, hold me – but we turned up on Sunday for a full day of classic American rock and roll.
Despite her being one of my absolute icons, I was a little worried about seeing Nicks perform live. Rumours is one of my favourite albums ever – ever – and she sounds amazing on it. However, voices can be difficult to look after at the best of times, so when you combine aging, decades of gigging, as well as a cocaine addiction? It’s going to take a bit of a hit. I was prepared to be disappointed, and set myself up to just enjoy the novelty of breathing the same air as her (almost).
How wrong I was. Her vocals weren’t as resonant as they were during the Buckingham Nicks era or during Fleetwood Mac’s biggest successes, of course not. However, where the vocals minutely lacked, the performance more than made up for. Standing on stage in full black, trench coat, long gloves, with tassels on her mic stand and her tambourine? It was so Stevie it hurt.
She chose to sing some lower harmonies on some songs with higher notes to hit, including Dreams and Crying in the Night, but the blend of her voice with the backing singers meant that I didn’t miss anything. Edge of Seventeen was absolute perfection, and Gold Dust Woman gave me goosebumps even in the sweltering heat.
Stevie Nicks owned the stage in a way I have never seen it done before. I’ve been to a lot of gigs where men prance around the stage like they owned the universe, and their energy is inescapable. It can make for an excellent gig, that’s not an issue (on stage). Nicks did the total opposite of that, however. She walked on and off stage with slow purpose. She danced using her whole body, right through to her fingertips. It felt like she was performing for herself, and only herself – the audience being there was an added bonus. She was deliberate, but never forced. It was an absolute and pure joy to watch.
No pics of Nicks here, you can check one out on my Instagram, but honestly I was too busy almost crying over the fact that Stevie Nicks was RIGHT there.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
In contrast to Nicks, I had some pretty high hopes for Tom Petty’s performance. Before we left, Dan and I watched the documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream, released 10 years ago, which gives a thorough rundown of the history of the band and their back catalogue. I am a big fan of being really, really excited for gigs (especially the more expensive ones) but the Petty we saw was not the one you expected to, based on the documentary.
The set was relaxed, understated, and like Nicks, totally confident. Of course the biggest hits were there, Free Fallin’ and American Girl, but much of the seminal second album Damn the Torpedoes was missing. Instead, we were treated to five songs from Wildflowers, the 1994 album that takes a step back from the classic rock image most people associate with Tom Petty. The set really, really benefitted from this, and though they weren’t as high energy as their archive footage – unsurprising considering this is part of their 40th anniversary tour – it was more controlled and comfortable that I expected. Petty said at one point he was going to play a request – the fact that he made the request himself was beside the point. The audience laughed with him easily, and I can just about forgive him for not playing Here Comes my Girl (just!).
In the weeks leading up to going, I was excited to go and see ‘Tom Petty’. The ‘and the Heartbreakers’ always felt like a little too much in the mouth, and I didn’t really see them as adding the sort of value that necessitated a mention in the band title. Yet again, I was totally wrong. Tom Petty is not a solo act, but rather than frontman of a wonderful band. They were so tight, and so together, it’s impossible to call them anything other than their full and deserved name. Petty commented that they’d spent more time together as a band than they had with their families, and that is not difficult to believe.
I had two highlights of the night. One was seeing Nicks and Petty duet on Stop Draggin’ my Heart Around. It felt like we were watching two old friends have a sing-along at a small party, rather than member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame perform at a sold-out event. The other highlight was a girl I saw on the barrier of the Gold Circle*. She was there when we arrived to scope it out before midday, and she stayed there until the end of the night. I’m pretty sure she was on her own, and was definitely in her early teens. When Petty and the Heartbreakers came on, she knew every single word, to every song. I was in absolute awe.
How fantastic is it that a band in their 40th year can appeal to so many people? Their songs continue to be relevant and relatable, and the deeper you go into their discography the more you find. The themes of love, loss, money and corruption are universally understood, and not unique. That’s not the kicker, plenty of mediocre bands sing about big subjects. It’s the charisma and ease that the Heartbreakers bring to the issues, that makes them more than a sum of their parts.
Both acts gave plenty of ego but no arrogance. They weren’t apologetic for doing exactly what they wanted, and I came away wanting to bottle that attitude and sell it. For the Heartbreakers, it was their only European date on the tour, which truly is heart-breaking. Any of my readers in the states, I strongly advise that you get your hands on some tickets for the rest of their 40th anniversary tour. For my readers in the rest of the world, maybe we can pool together and share accommodation while we’re over there? I’ll meet you at the airport.
* a space you can get into if you arrive extra early, guaranteed closeness to the stage and a very good view. You can also pay in advance for a ticket in, which we elected not to do, but we did pay an extra £7ish each for early entry to secure one of these wristbands for no charge.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers set mentions.
American Girl. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976.
Damn the Torpedoes, 1979.
Free Fallin’. Full Moon Fever, 1989.
Here Comes my Girl. Damn the Torpedoes, 1979.
Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around. Bella Donna, 1981.
Stevie Nicks set mentions.
Crying in the Night. Buckingham Nicks, 1973.
Dreams. Rumours, 1997.
Edge of Seventeen. Bella Donna, 1981.
Gold Dust Woman. Rumours, 1997.
Runnin’ Down a Dream, 2007. dir. P Bogdanovich.