Keep comin’ ’round here, again
Elaborating on the timelessness of Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers
Almost exactly three years ago, after seeing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers for the first time at what was then the AutoWest Amphitheater, I concluded my review by stating that, “The Heartbreakers were beyond awesome throughout, and all in all Petty’s set was a superb example of commercial rock at its unifying best.” Having just seen them again in the same venue, now called the Sleep Train Amphitheatre, I really can’t improve on that statement. So instead I will elaborate and pontificate.
Since rising to popularity in the late ‘70s Petty has cranked out a seemingly endless stream of hit songs and albums, writing songs with classic melodies and straightforward, emotionally honest yet poetic lyrics presented with an idiosyncratic, somewhat nasal vocal delivery framed by immaculately rendered classic rock instrumentation. Old guys who cut their teeth on the Rolling Stones dig Tom Petty. Middle-aged punks who love the Clash dig Tom Petty. And about a billion groovy rocker chicks of all ages dig Tom Petty to the point of standing up and dancing in front of their seats for two solid hours while he and his band play.
And the reason for that is that the guy kicks off his set with a song such as “(She’s Gonna) Listen to her Heart.” in which he expresses his appreciation of them. And he dances around striking self-consciously goofy rock star poses like, as my grinning wife put it, “a total goober,” while he’s doing it. The guy is endearing as hell. It could not be more obvious that he absolutely loves what he’s doing and appreciates the people who allow him to keep on doing it.
A good deal of credit for Petty’s success must also be given to the Heartbreakers, as great a band as has ever graced a stage. On this night keyboard virtuoso Bentmont Tench was given a featured spot on the epic new song “Melinda” that allowed him several minutes to explore every key of the grand piano in a fusion of roots rock and classical music that had the audience simultaneously spellbound and ecstatic. And a magical two or three bars on the Hammond organ slipped seamlessly into the middle of this piano extravaganza only highlighted the incredible musicality that this band is capable of.
Not to mention the guitars. I didn’t actually count them, but Petty and shaggy-haired “team co-captain” Mike Campbell must have shared an 18-wheeler load of vintage six-string Fenders, Rickenbackers, Gibsons, Gretches, Danelectros, Martins and God knows what else. But by the time they hit the final encore—a high-energy blast of “American Girl” that had every female in sight lit up and wriggling like an incandescent filament—Petty and Campbell had more than justified the presence of each luthier’s gem.
Openers the Black Crowes suffered a bit from being soundboard guinea pigs, the first few songs apparently being used to see exactly how loud every speaker of the house PA could be cranked to, but they delivered an enthusiastically received set of rock ranging from Exile on Main St.-era Stones to Allman Brothers-esque jams. And Kate Hudson, the movie star wife of singer Chris Robinson, looked every inch the cute rocker mama hanging out and smokin’ cigs at the side of the stage while her hubby rocked out.