Concert review: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at Amway Center
By Jim Abbott
Orlando Sentinel — May 3, 2012
As any Tom Petty fan knows, the waiting is the hardest part, but this is ridiculous.
Petty and the Heartbreakers haven’t played an arena show in Orlando since 1995, although the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers have made numerous road-trip worthy stops on the I-4 corridor in Tampa and Daytona Beach since the Clinton years.
So it was worth wondering if the band would pull out any surprises on Thursday at Amway Center. You know, to make the night memorable enough to last another decade or so?
“We’re pretty excited to be back in Florida,” Petty told the sold-out crowd in the opening moments of a 2-hour show. “We’ve got all our friends and relatives and ex-wives backstage.”
There were plenty of wrinkles mixed into the reliable assortment of hits, often delivered with a precision perhaps only rivaled by the Eagles, another band that has remained a big concert draw.
Petty opened with a faithful rendition of “Listen to Her Heart,” still a fine example of the band’s debt to the guitar sound of the Byrds. It was immediately followed by a one-two punch of signature hits – “You Wreck Me,” “I Won’t Back Down” – that lesser bands would be obligated to save for the encore.
The Heartbreakers mixed the obligatory stuff with surprises such as “Here Comes My Girl,” in which the band chugged along powerfully beneath the spoken-word narration that opened into the big chorus. Such dynamic shifts were elevated by a mix that was hospitable by the arena’s hit-or-miss standards.
Petty dedicated another lesser known song, “The Best of Everything,” to the late Levon Helm, a fitting gesture since Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel, Helm’s colleagues in The Band, contributed to the original studio track. He did some old-fashioned Southern storytelling on a folksy “Spike.”
“Something Big” was among numerous showcases for guitarist Mike Campbell’s inventive solos, which also lifted “You Wreck Me,” “Saving Grace” and others with combinations of flash and restraint. Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench turned J.J. Cale’s “Travelin’ Light” into an atmospheric jam.
It all unfolded on a stage that was relatively understated compared with the eye-catching light displays of recent tours. There was only a backdrop of an elegant curtain, shaded by a mix of spotlights. Above the band, there were four video screens that could’ve been larger to work for the cheap seats.
Singer-songwriter Regina Spektor opened the show with 50 minutes of piano ballads that were an oddly somber counter-point to Petty’s rock ‘n’ roll. A lot of the subtleties were lost in the cavernous arena, so the contrast didn’t exactly work.
Fortunately, Petty and the band reclaimed the rock mojo, especially on a closing sprint that included “Refugee,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “American Girl.”
Let’s hope they don’t wait so long to come back.