It’s still good to be Tom Petty, king of classic rock
By Gene Stout
Seattle Post Intelligencer — Sunday, May 13, 2001
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers headed into the great wide open Saturday, kicking off the 2001 season at The Gorge with two hours of anthemic, all-American rock ‘n’ roll.
Celebrating their 25th year as a band, Petty and the Heartbreakers reached back to some of their earlier albums for their set, performing such songs as “Too Much Ain’t Enough,” “Here Comes My Girl” and “Even the Losers.” There were new songs, too, notably “Billy the Kid” from the group’s recent “Echo” album.
The Gorge show, featuring an opening set by Jakob Dylan’s Wallflowers, was part of the group’s “Way Out West” tour, which is moving eastward in midsummer with additional dates in the Midwest and East. During a break in June, Petty hopes to begin work on the group’s next album.
At The Gorge, it was apparent Petty was enjoying his spring/summer trek. He and the band performed old songs as if they were new, adding texture and nuance to longtime favorites. Many songs featured extended jams.
Wearing a sequined jacket and striped tie, Petty introduced himself as “so young and so tanned” despite a grayish-white beard that made him look older than his 50 years. His rapport with fans couldn’t have been better.
Backing the nasal-voiced singer-guitarist were Heartbreakers Mike Campbell on guitar, Howie Epstein on bass and Benmont Tench on keyboards, as well as touring musicians Scott Thurston on guitar and Steve Ferrone on drums.
“I really feel like I play in the best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world,” Petty said as he introduced his bandmates.
A capacity crowd of more than 18,000 arrived early to enjoy the season’s first big outdoor concert. Despite partly cloudy skies, it was comfortably warm, even a bit muggy.
Petty and the Heartbreakers opened with “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “I Won’t Back Down” and “Breakdown.” The crowd sang and clapped along, caught up in the euphoria of Petty’s rock anthems.
The show was peppered with gems: “It’s Good to Be King” from the “Wildflowers” album. A spirited version of the rockabilly “Guitar Boogie Shuffle.” The blues classic “Little Red Rooster.” Merle Haggard’s “Closin’ Time.”
The main set came to a close with “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Even the Losers” and “You Wreck Me.” The enthusiastic crowd set the amphitheater aglow with flickering light from thousands of cigarette lighters.
Petty and the Heartbreakers returned for a brief, two-song encore featuring “Free Fallin'” and a rousing “American Girl.” The crowd wanted more, but Petty and the band were through.
Dylan and the Wallflowers performed a 45-minute set featuring such songs as “6th Avenue Heartache” and “Letters From the Wasteland.” Despite a strong performance from the band, the crowd was somewhat lethargic, prompting Dylan to say, “You guys came a long way to sit down.”