Friday Night: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers At The Woodlands

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion September 24, 2010

For more photos from the show, see our slideshow here.

In a catalog studded with them, one of the saddest songs Tom Petty ever wrote is also one of the most revealing. As far as we know, it's never seen the light of stage since the tour for its parent album, 1999's Echo, but "Room At the Top" described the scene at the Woodlands Friday night to the letter:

I got a room at the top of the world tonight I can see everything tonight I got a room where everyone Can have a drink and forget those things That went wrong in their life

Those words may look like a party onscreen, but they don't sound like one in the song. "Room At the Top" was written in the midst of Petty's divorce from his first wife, but we wonder if he thinks about those lyrics differently these days. Or, maybe, if something like Friday is what he meant all along.

We don't know how it feels to be him, of course, but from where we were sitting standing, an evening with Petty and his trusty Heartbreakers is as close as we've ever come to a two-hour furlough from this thing called life. Electric word, life, and an electrifying show.

Friday made us think of "Room At the Top" for another reason too. Petty and the Heartbreakers are at the pinnacle of their profession, with millions of albums sold, a slew of awards, one Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, unyielding adoration from critics and fans alike and, underneath it all, a well-earned reputation as one of the best live bands - if not the best - to ever come down the pike.

Almost 35 years after releasing their first album, Petty and the Heartbreakers have absolutely nothing left to prove. So what do they do now?

Whatever they want to, naturally.

Friday, that included throwing in just enough hits to keep the crowd happy, but besides a sprawling, laser-guided "Don't Come Around Here No More" and riptide "Refugee" that closed the main set, and a potent-as-ever "American Girl" that was the band's goodnight this time around, the hits that stood out were of (relatively) more recent vintage - and the songs that stood out even more weren't hits at all. Yet.

"You Don't Know How It Feels" and "Mary Jane's Last Dance" were held up by the virile harmonica of the Heartbreakers' ace in the hole, utilityman Scott Thurston. It turned out, though, that Thurston was just warming up for "Jefferson Jericho Blues," one of four songs in a row the Heartbreakers played from new album Mojo.

Besides "Jefferson," which could have won Thurston a spot in Muddy Waters' band if Waters were still alive, the Mojo tracks showcased what a demon "co-captain" Mike Campbell has become on guitar - even more than encore opener "Runnin' Down a Dream." Campbell himself had warmed up a few songs earlier, with the stinging blues riffs of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" as Petty patrolled the stage shaking a pair of maracas.

Campbell's snaky lead steered the Heartbreakers through the late-'60s psychedelia of "Good Enough," a sort of slower, steamier sequel to "Oh Well." Keyboardist Benmont Tench added some tight, rhythmic B-3 bumps to "Running Man's Bible," the same sort of '40s/'50s West Coast jump-blues that has had such a profound effect on Jimmie Vaughan.

The real killer, though, was the howling fury Campbell channeled into his guitar on "I Should Have Known It," which if it came out 20 or 30 years ago, would have been one of Petty's biggest hits and, 40 years ago, would have been one of Led Zeppelin's. Aftermath is willing to bet that a lot of people at the Woodlands Friday had no idea the Heartbreakers - first and foremost bassist Ron Blair and drummer Steve Ferrone - could get so heavy.

More than "Free Fallin'," more than the extended stream-of-consciousness "Breakdown," more than a delicate, acoustic "Learning To Fly" and more than the rush we always get when the opening chords of "Listen to Her Heart" signal the beginning of another Petty concert, the Mojo tracks were the best example of what Aftermath took away most of all from Friday's show: How much this band enjoys each other's company onstage, and how much they enjoy playing for their audience, who - whether they know the songs or not - gives it right back.

And that's good enough. Good enough for right now, and good enough that we were an even bigger Petty fan at 11 p.m. than we were at 9. Which, if you haven't guessed already, is really saying something.

Personal Bias: Ummm... well... maybe a little...

Overheard In the Crowd: Not much, really. Everyone near us was either singing along or conversing quietly enough that we couldn't hear them over the band.

The Crowd: Petty Nation - white, mid-twenties to mid-fifties, employed and having a blast.

Random Notebook Dump: We hope the crowd took heed of the message onscreen between ZZ Top and the Heartbreakers that their ticket came with a free digital copy of Mojo.


Listen To Her Heart You Don't Know How It Feels I Won't Back Down Free Fallin' Oh Well Mary Jane's Last Dance King's Highway Breakdown Jefferson Jericho Blues Good Enough Running Man's Bible I Should Have Known It Learning To Fly Don't Come Around Here No More Refugee


Runnin' Down a Dream American Girl

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