Hyde Park, London
There’s a song from a lesser-known Tom Petty album, 2002’s The Last DJ, which rails against large outdoor gigs. “They sat in golden circles/And waiters served them wine … And way up in the nosebleeds/We watched him on the screen/They’d hung between the billboards/So cheaper seats could see”. This is the Hyde Park experience, and Tom Petty has become part of this – not that I blame him. He last came to the UK in 2012, and may not play here again, so he’s playing to Hyde Park sized places. My £65 ticket (plus fees) gets me the basic admission, which gets me about 100 yards from the main stage at best. If I were to empty my wallet further, I might get in the silver section, a crescent nearer the acts, or the gold section, nearest the front. My friend who works in the city got a ticket in the still-more-rarefied VIP garden, a grandstand slightly to one side of the stage, commanding a raised view of the stage, and possibly featuring butlers, caviar on ice and executive relief.
Back in the plebs’ area, we have the option of a huge amount of bars made up to look like a Cuban street, all selling the same five drinks. There’s an impressive array of food stalls at prices that make one raise an eyebrow, but not wince. There’s also the grim spectacle of an enclosure sponsored by a Champagne company replete with scowling bouncers, a viewing platform and about 50 polo-shirted arseholes.
The supporting bill is a procession of earnest, yelpy Americana acts. All male performers have facial hair. There are a lot of broad-brimmed black hats, Gibson acoustics and BBC2 harmonies. They’re all perfectly pleasant to my ears apart from the Lumineers, who ramp up all of these tropes into an irritating, hoedowning, hipsterish blandness. However, all is not lost: our main support is Stevie Nicks, who casts her highly polished but wonderfully engaging spell over the tipsy multitudes. She is everything that we want her to be in a set that has all the solo hits and all the Mac favourites. When she closes her show with an unadorned Landslide, the W2 postcode suddenly becomes very dusty indeed.
And before we know it, here are Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, for whom I have an almost unreasonable fondness. A quick check online confirms that they have been playing almost exactly the same set every night on this tour, but the charm with which they put it across makes it feel like the set list was scribbled on the back of an envelope minutes before they came on. Tom is chunkier than his pomp and plods about the stage instead of the tiggerish bouncing of yore, but is engaging and charming. The Heartbreakers are tight and, with the addition of ex-Cohen sidewomen the Webb sisters, sound huge. We get most of the hits (though no The Waiting or Breakdown) and a bit too much of the Wildflowers album. But never mind that! A break from the usual set brings Stevie Nicks back on for Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around and the atmosphere ramps up a gear. By the time they finish with American Girl, everyone’s happy. We sang along to a great deal of classic rock in hot weather. Despite the class divides, the £6 pints and the limited sightlines, I can’t complain that much at all. We got our money’s worth.
A large percentage of daytrippers who could have got drunk and bellowed along to almost any large musical act, and a smattering of big fans who knew every word. Not as many Stevie clones as I expected, though they may have shelled out for the golden section.
It made me think..
Most of the punters were unperturbed by the prices, the lack of Rock-and-Rollness (Pizza Express or Katzu Curry, darling?) and the caste system in place. Having not been to an outdoor gig like this for years, I wasn’t ready for it, but might learn to accept that this is how enomo-gigs are now. I’ll never embrace it, though.