Rolling Stone #813 — May 27, 1999

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Performance: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | Irving Plaza | April 11th, 1999 | New York
Review by Anthony DeCurtis
Rolling Stone #813 — May 27, 1999

Opening for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers twice during their three-night stand at the Irving Plaza, Bo Diddley felt compelled in one song to rap. More than a nod from one master of the African-American street-rhyming tradition to a younger generation, it was a veteran showman’s attempt to engage the music of the moment.

If Petty felt any similar impulses during his two-hour-plus set, it was nowhere in evidence. With rollicking defiance, he stuck squarely to his own two decades of hitmaking and the Fifties and Sixties nuggets that inspired him. “I won’t back down,” he sang, cranky and independent-minded as ever, and he wasn’t kidding.

The set opened with an easy-going romp through Little Richard’s “Rip it Up,” followed by Petty’s own “Jammin Me.” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Call Me the Breeze” — on which, in hallowed bar-band fashion, Petty sang the one verse he knew (“I got that green light, baby…”) over and over — wittily complemented the darker road anthem “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” Through it all, the Heartbreakers rocked with an awe-inspiring efficiency, dispatching the shimmering jangle of “Listen to Her Heart,” the sizzling R&B of Booker T’s “Green Onions” and the brooding, British-invasion pop of the Zombies’ “I Want You Back Again” with equal measures of enthusiasm and skill.

“Free Girl Now,” one of only four songs played from Petty’s new album, Echo, and a raucous version of Van Morrison’s “Gloria” ended a night that was, against all the tiresome claims that rock & roll has died, Petty’s sly, willful version of rock & roll heaven.

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