"Are you ready for COCKER?"
To tell the truth, I wasn’t either. Some cities got My Morning Jacket as the opening act for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers; others got Drive-By Truckers. Saskatoon got Joe Cocker. Which was probably the best choice of those three, really – once folks in Saskatchewan start loving your music, they never stop. And I can get behind that. I’ve liked lots of artists for longer than I should. Joe Cocker was just never one of them. But at least I got to yell "are you ready for COCKER" which was pretty fun.
Getting to the show was a bit of a chore. I haven’t been to SaskPlace for a big event in some time. Wrestling doesn’t draw a big crowd anymore, and neither did Weird Al. Pearl Jam and Def Leppard were many years ago. I feel like I must be forgetting something obvious, but I’m too lazy to look it up. Anyway, point being, they’ve changed how they handle parking there. Back in the day, the whole lot was first-come, first-served. More recently, when buying tickets for the (since-cancelled) Simon & Garfunkel, I noticed that you could add VIP parking onto the cost of your tickets. Which I did, since my mom was paying. It turns out that the VIP section is just the same normal paved section that you always had access to. The free parking is now the big muddy lot behind the stadium that is sometimes used for outdoor festival-type concerts. So basically you get to pay an extra $8 for what you used to get for free, or you can take your chances on the mud lot.
We braved the mud lot, made it inside, and checked out the stuff tables from a distance. There were too many people in the way, but given the standard big-concert prices, I didn’t need to get any closer anyway.
We made a loop around the arena and ran into approximately half of my office. No wonder the highway was so busy that afternoon. We also ran into the awesomest guy ever. Long, flowing golden curls topped an equally-golden fake tan, adorned with a big gold chain, jean shorts, and a wifebeater. This guy was PUMPED. "YEAH," he’d yell at random passers-by, "THAT’S what I’m talking about!" I was never sure what he was actually talking about, apart from "YEAH." This dude was loud and great. For the wrestling fans: if Zack Ryder was 40 and a real person, that’s who we’re dealing with. Awesome.
On our way to the arena, we got stuck in a big mass of traffic; once inside, we fought our way upstream amidst a big mass of people. In all this I lost track of time, so we were on our way down the stairs to our seats when they cut the lights to start the show. Couldn’t read the tickets, couldn’t read the signs, were holding up a bunch of people who also wanted to get to their seats. Luckily, we averted a crisis through some quick dodging and the light from our BlackBerrys. (Or is it "BlackBerries?" At work I just say "BlackBerry devices.")
The seats themselves were not great. On our way into the arena, there was a discussion about whether or not Joe Cocker had a beard. I still couldn’t tell you. Despite signing into Ticketmaster.ca as soon as tickets went on sale, we would have been nearly at the back of the floor section. I wasn’t all about that, so I picked up some cheaper seats even further back, but up in the stands. "Cheaper" being a relative (and mostly inaccurate) term, of course – and yet, I know lots of people there who told me that they’d love to have gone to Simon & Garfunkel if only it wasn’t so expensive. I really think that show priced itself out of the market. They say Garfunkel is sick, but I believe Garfunkel came down with a bad case of I-can’t-sing-in-front-of-so-few-paying-customers. Tom Petty, on the other hand, was just about sold out, so I guess his promoters knew just the right amount of too much to charge.
Before the show, I was trying to figure out which Joe Cocker songs I actually knew. During the show, I thought "oh, right, that one" about ten times. It turns out I am surprisingly well-versed in the oeuvre of Cocker. Still didn’t care, though. Everyone else in the arena seemed to love his set – and there was nothing wrong with it – it just wasn’t my thing. It was an enthusiastic, energetic, well-played, well-received performance of music that I could not have cared any less about. But I was clearly in the minority here, so good on him.
To our left was a really grumpy lady who didn’t want to be there. In front of us were a group of a half-dozen older people who kept leaving their seats and coming back with more beers and smashing into our knees when they sat down. They tried lighting a joint at one point, but grumpy lady told them off, so they went somewhere else to smoke up instead. Repeatedly. And the women in this group said "woo" a few times, and danced in that particular woman-who-doesn’t-want-to-be-accused-of-not-acting-her-age way – with your feet firmly planted in place, you sway side-to-side, bend your arms upward at the elbows (alternating arms in time to the music – if you sway to the left, your right arm comes up, and vice versa), and work in as little hip movement as possible while still actually moving. And it never lasts for more than 15 seconds at a time. It is not actual dancing; it is a ritual. It is non-verbal communication. It is a set of movements that you perform to let the people you are with know that even though you feel you are too old to dance, you are enjoying the music.
I never know what’s going to come out when I try to fill space. Really, I wanted to send this review out as one sentence: "That Tom Petty fella is pretty good."
And he was, as were the Heartbreakers. It’s an overly simple statement because I don’t know what I’m talking about, but they could really play as well as you’d expect seasoned pros to do, Tom PEtty sounded like he ever does, and the sound was pretty good – especially for it being a hockey arena.
Aside from a four-song block of new songs in the middle of the set to give everyone time to hit the washroom and refill their drinks, they played all the favourites. Actually, it was better than that – there are a few Tom Petty singles that I really dislike, and they didn’t play any of those. Now, I’m not going to list these songs and open myself up for mockery – it’s been a long time since I heard them and my tastes have changed a lot since then, so maybe I’d like these songs now. Except for The Last DJ, I mean. My mind is made up on that one.
The set was almost nothing but the hits, and it was the band’s first time in Saskatoon. I haven’t looked at the setlists from other shows, and it’s not like I asked the guy, but I suspect these things are related; maybe if they come back, they might play some deeper cuts. And I expect they will come back – the show was announced late but it still nearly sold out, and the crowd was loud and enthusiastic from start to finish, even for the new material. You can always expect bands to say the same things re: audiences and their appreciation thereof, but there have been a few times when someone has genuinely seemed surprised by the reaction they’ve received. This was one of those times. "Clearly, we should have been here before. We’ll come back if you come back."
And I might. I don’t know – I really enjoyed the show; Petty had been on my list of people to see for a long time, and he lived up to my expectations. But in general, I’m losing my excitement for big stadium shows. I still buy into the hype when tickets go on sale, but I inevitably spend too much money to sit too far from the stage, crammed in like sardines with people who are going to act like dicks because this is their one night a year when they get to do so. And then you have to fight your way out of the mud lot.