Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Verizon Wireless Music Center
Friday, June 23
Tom Petty may hail from Gainesville, Fla., but the man must have some Hoosier blood in him. He’s played here almost every year since 1976 and his greatest hits are still in heavy rotation on Q-95 as if they came out last week. In a state that adores its classic rock, nobody is more adored than Petty.
The governor ought to give him the key to the Statehouse or something. His mixture of rock idealism and petty assertiveness even outdoes our local source of the same, John Mellencamp.
That’s why Verizon Wireless Music Center was fully sold out for Petty’s show on Friday, and that’s why the audience was as diverse as a (98 percent white) rock audience can be these days. It was as if the tickets had been distributed equally among teen-agers, college kids, young professionals and old-timers who were there when Petty first started in 1976.
Beginning with “Listen To Her Heart,” Petty and his air-tight band delivered everything you’d want from a rock and roll show. Petty is nothing if not consistent. Except for the addition of newer material, it was pretty much the same show he gave in 1981 and 1987 and 1995, which is to say, unadulterated guitar-rock and roll with no bullshit.
The show was theoretically a victory lap celebrating the Heartbreakers’ 30th anniversary of the band, so new material got the short shrift. “Saving Grace,” the leadoff single from Petty’s next album, came off as an uninspired, choogling blues number that received only polite applause.
Equally unsuccessful were Petty’s attempts at the blues. “I’m A Man” and “Honey Bee” dragged the show down. The Heartbreakers are an unusually versatile rock band, able to accompany both Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks, but the Yardbirds they ain’t.
Later in the show, an encore of Van Morrison’s “Mystic Eyes” was more palatable because of Petty’s weary, impassioned attack upon the song. He wanted the audience to love the song as much as he does, and he gave every last ounce.
Those are minor quarrels with what was otherwise an exceptional night of music. “Handle With Care,” the Traveling Wilburys song, was played with style and grace, with Petty able to cover both his and George Harrison’s vocals, with keyboardist Benmont Tench taking Roy Orbison’s part.
Guitarist Mike Campbell, whom Petty introduced as his “co-captain,” is just as much an architect of the Heartbreakers’ sound as Petty himself, and was in spectacular form. The pulsing solos on “Refugee” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” certainly had much to do with their success, and the band deserves a spot in the Rock Hall of Fame for his work on “American Girl” alone.
That song sums up everything that is great about Tom Petty: the jangling, Byrds-like guitar, the driving rhythm, the inventive solo work. It remains the moment in which he nailed everything he’s been trying to say for the last 30 years.
He withheld “American Girl” on Friday until the last song of the last encore, ending the show on an appropriately triumphant note. And while there were some who were disappointed that he didn’t play “Breakdown” or “The Waiting,” hardly anyone seemed upset as they walked from their seats into the interminable Noblesville traffic jam.
It was that rare rock show that was actually worth the $75 admission fee, because both Petty and his band gave one hell of an effort, had a great time and made 24,000 people happy.
That is a rarity in today’s music world and it makes one hope that Petty is kidding when he says this summer’s tour may be his last.
There may be better songwriters in the world, and there may be better performers, but for sheer, balls-out rock and roll sincerity, nobody is better than Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Long may they wave.