Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Steve Winwood Toyota Center September 25, 2014
Anyone curious what might motivate Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers to continue making records could do worse than starting with "Shadow People," a song from the band's new album Hypnotic Eye. Like its neighbor "American Dream Plan B," the song itself carries a vague political charge, exactly the sort of curmudgeonly tone a 63-year-old man might adopt, shaking his head as he mutters under his breath. These kids today.
In some ways Petty is like Hank Hill, the exasperated but fundamentally decent hero of Mike Judge's late, great animated Fox series King of the Hill. Petty appeared in the show as Lucky, the good-ole-boy love interest of Hank's niece Luanne, but in the Heartbreakers he is the man whose dismay at society's general direction is tempered by his deep bond with the people dear to him. Even among his closest peers, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp, Petty comes off more regular guy than man of the people.
Likewise, Petty and the Heartbreakers are now so far from the radar of the ADD-addled pop media, crippled as it is by its fixation on "what's hot," that they might as well be in another galaxy. Happily, this simple twist of fate has afforded Petty's bunch the privilege of making albums exclusively to remind the world they've still got something to say. And even if that message mostly amounts to "Hey, we're still here," plenty of people are sure glad they are.
Case in point: Hypnotic Eye, released two months ago, is the band's first Billboard No. 1 album in their 12 previous albums over nearly 40 years of making records as the Heartbreakers. In this era dominated by niche markets, Petty's camp is as loyal as anyone's.
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They're also awfully vocal. Thursday night at a nearly full Toyota Center, a number of fans were not shy about shouting out requests, intelligibly or otherwise. Some got pretty obscure, like the lady a few rows back who really wanted to hear "The Wild One, Forever" and "Two Gunslingers." And someone should have really told the poor kid a few seats over that it doesn't do much good to yell for songs guaranteed to show up late in the set ("Refugee," here) if you're going to leave before the band plays it. Hopefully he just switched seats.
Clocking in at 90 minutes on the nose, the main set was the work of a band whose professionalism isn't celebrated as often as it should be, because the songs always sound so perfect there's no reason do believe it could ever be anything else. It was easy to sense the Heartbreakers' maturity and elasticity that comes with 40 years of playing with the same fellows -- Petty joked about drummer Steve Ferrone being the newest member, for 20 years now -- and their deep connection with the fans as Petty followed the crowd's lead, vocalising off in his own world as the fans sang their way through "Learning to Fly." "I Won't Back Down" and "Yer So Bad" went down just as smoothly.
But it was hardly a hits-only affair. Lead guitarist Mike Campbell's screaming licks paired well with the romantic angst of the night's deepest cut, Hard Promises' "A Woman In Love (It's Not Me)." Left unplayed was a slew of Heartbreakers classics, starting with "Even the Losers," "You Don't Know How It Feels," "Listen to Her Heart," "You Got Lucky," "Dont Come Around Here No More," and "Don't Do Me Like That," to name a handful, but the songs that replaced them made it tough to notice. The Bo Diddley bounce of Hypnotic Eye's "Forgotten Man,"and especially the incense-tinged "You Get Me High," deserve to survive this tour.
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One that survived the Heartbreakers' last one," Mojo's blues stomper "I Should Have Known It," kicked off a home stretch that unfolded into "Refugee" and "Runnin Down a Dream," the Heartbreakers giving it both barrels as even the normally unassuming Campbell was attacked his fingerboard like Eddie Van Halen on "Hot For Teacher" at the climax. It left such an endorphine buzz in the air that, despite the pause for the cause, the momentum plowed straight through the encore of "You Wreck Me" and "American Girl."
Oh yeah. All right. Oh my my, oh hell yes. With nothing left to prove, all that's really left is for Petty and the Heartbreakers at this stage of the game is to go out and have some fun, something they had little trouble with Thursday. Score one for the shadow people.
Personal Bias: Fifth time seeing them. 'Nuff said.
The Crowd: Lots of dads and dudes.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Steeeeeeeeeeve!!" -- shoutout to opener Steve Winwood, whose hour-long opening set touched on Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith, Traffic, and an extended Afro-Caribbean take on "Higher Love." His band of session aces jammed so long they ran out of time to play "Higher Love," but it was tough to tell if anyone missed it.
Random Notebook Dump: A minimum of visual effects at the show. No videos, no pyro, just a few light shows on the curtain behind the stage. Refreshing.
So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star Mary Jane's Last Dance American Dream Plan B Into the Great Wide Open Forgotten Man I Won't Back Down Free Fallin' A Woman In Love (It's Not Me) You Get Me High Rebels Yer So Bad Learning to Fly Shadow People I Should Have Known It Refugee Runnin' Down a Dream
ENCORE You Wreck Me American Girl
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
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