Full Moon Fever: A Re-imagining of Tom Petty’s Iconic Album, featuring Birds of Chicago, Jim Byrnes, Steve Dawson, Roy Forbes, Rich Hope, Linda McRae, Ndidi Onukwulu, Dawn Pemberton, Maya Rae and Tom Wilson, as part of the Cap U Global Roots Series at Kay Meek Arts Centre, Oct. 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m. (kaymeek.com).
Steve Dawson returns to Kay Meek Arts Centre this week for two nights of performances re-imagining Tom Petty’s album, Full Moon Fever, with an all-star cast of musicians and guest vocalists.
Dawson, born and raised in West Vancouver but now based in Nashville, has been putting on tribute shows for almost a decade in collaboration with Capilano University’s director of programming Fiona Black. The first in 2010, the Winter Olympics year, celebrated the string band music of the Mississippi Sheiks and since then they’ve gone on to honour the likes of the Rolling Stones (Exile on Main St.), David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust), Tom Waits (Wicked Grin) and Joe Cocker (Mad Dogs and Englishmen), live in concert.
Dawson considers the performances “re-imaginings” rather than “tributes.” The musicians are encouraged to approach the album as a template but reinterpret the material as they see fit. Rich Hope reconfiguring Bowie’s “Life On Mars” as a Thin White Duke Sinatra, Ndidi O giving the “pervy lyrics” of “Midnight Rambler” another dimension entirely and Roy Forbes channeling deep soul singers in a horn-laden rendition of “Drown In My Own Tears” are just a few of the many highlights that have taken place on the Kay Meek stage over the past few years.
This year’s selection promises more of the same originality and excitement with at least part of the buzz due to the fact that the band get minimal rehearsal time. Everything is meant to come together live on stage.
Full Moon Fever comes front-loaded with its own drama. The 1989 MCA Records release is considered Petty’s first solo album. That means no Heartbreakers. Apparently some of the band at the time weren’t too happy about their omission although a few band members actually play on some tracks. Petty brought in Jeff Lynne as a collaborator and co-producer. The Heartbreakers were Bob Dylan’s band for a tour in 1986 and Petty first met Lynne then. Petty, Lynne and Dylan formed the Traveling Willburys with George Harrison and Roy Orbison at about the same time Full Moon Fever was made and all except Dylan make appearances on the album. In interviews Petty has said he came across Lynne at a traffic stop in Los Angeles and learned they were neighbours. The two started writing the songs which would become Full Moon Fever. "He just came over during the holidays," Petty says in an Australian TV interview from 1989. "It was the Christmas holidays and we just very casually wrote some songs. It wasn't even an album I'd planned to do. I'd say, 'Come on, Jeff, let's do one more.' And he'd say, 'I've got to go back to England,' and I'd say 'Come on, let's do one more,' and we'd do one more . . . and we kept going like that all the way through until it was done."
North Shore News: Matt Andersen was part of the Mad Dogs and Englishmen concerts at Kay Meek in 2018 and since then you’ve been out on tour with him. How did the tour go?
Steve Dawson: It’s been great. It was epically spread out over quite a few months. We did Western Canada in one chunk and then Eastern Canada in a more recent chunk, and a few things in between, so it’s been going on for a while.
North Shore News: It’s hard to believe it’s been a full year since the last shows. What led you to select Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever album for this year’s concerts.
Steve Dawson: I have a few albums that are kind of always in the back of my mind to do. No real reason. It was one of the ones high on the list and I think we figured it would be cool to do somebody American – we’ve done a lot of British artists – that’s just sort of the way that it worked out. I was a teenager when the record came out and it was everywhere. There were so many hits on it. It was on the radio, in cars, in stores, in restaurants. You couldn’t escape it.
North Shore News: What do you think Jeff Lynne did to Tom Petty’s sound or did he change anything?
Steve Dawson: I don’t know if smoothed out is the right word but the Heartbreakers were pretty rough and tumble and a lot of [Lynne’s] stuff is very finely crafted. There’s a lot of overdubbing going on, a lot of layers. There’s endless guitar parts. Even simple stuff in a song like “Free Fallin',” where you think of that song as one strummy guitar, it’s probably more like 14 or 15. That was sort of his trademark – orchestrally produced little guitar symphonies and that’s all over the record, as well some pretty neat keyboard stuff and things like that. That was really the thing that changed Petty’s vibe because up to then Petty was pretty rock ’n’ roll - straight up greasy, barroom rock. Great songs. With Jeff Lynne in the fold it turned into something else but very cool on its own. There’s a couple of loose, jammy songs but for the most part they’re finely crafted little pop numbers. Real classics. I don’t necessarily think it’s the best Tom Petty record. That isn’t really the criteria for me to pick these albums I just think it’s a really interesting one.
North Shore News: What interested you about Full Moon Fever?
Steve Dawson: Because of that history to it and definitely in my memory bank it’s the biggest record, for sure. It was around that time when I was listening to the radio. Other songs and other albums by him are really big for me as well but that record from beginning to end had a big impact. If I look back on his career now and think about all his records it’s probably in the top three or four for me. From beginning to end it’s got incredibly strong songs which is what makes these concerts tick. We can’t really do what we’re doing if an album had two or three great songs and then a bunch of filler. A lot of records have that. Some of the songs [on Full Moon Fever] aren’t as well known but they’re all great.