Review: Tom Petty reprises his hits at SPAC
By Jeff Wilkin
Schenectady Daily Gazette — Sunday, July 8, 2001
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Tom Petty may look like an old geezer these days. But he’s sure not playing like one.
A silver-bearded Petty and his Heartbreakers played the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Saturday night, cranking out hit after hit for more than 18,000 who jammed the amphitheater and lawn.
It was one of the nicer double-headers of the SPAC season. Jackson Browne opened the pleasant, breezy evening with an hour of his own big songs.
But it was really Petty’s night. The man who once represented the new wave of pop in the late 1970s and his Heartbreakers played everything fans expected, opening with “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and following with “I Won’t Back Down” and “Breakdown.”
Fans were on their feet for the first 40 minutes of the show, and were singing at the first twang of many Heartbreakers’ songs. The recently married Petty, now 50, was clearly having a blast, peeling off a rhinestone-covered jacket and rolling up the sleeves of his black and white print shirt early in the show.
He opened his arms wide to accept the salutes and applause; he high-stepped his guitar, he walked the edge of the stage, smiling and staying cool with the crowd.
The stage was dressed with five faux ballroom chandeliers overhead, complete with changing colors. And the guys played in front of a scene of classic architecture, pillars and archways.
Again, classic was key. Petty and the guys rolled through “Billy the Kid” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” Tom can still hit the high notes in the latter. The big hits, like “Mary Jane,” got the biggest response. Seems people never get tired of hearing “Even the Losers” and “You Don’t Know How it Feels.”
Of course, Petty had help. Longtime collaborator Mike Campbell was just marvelous on guitar, and got the well-deserved spotlight on several tunes. Keyboard man Benmont Tench reaped his share of the glory in the HBs’ biggest surprise of the night, a meaty, muscular take on “Green Onions,” the old hit from Booker T. and the MGs.
But the thing about this pure rock band is the way they all play so well together. Howie Epstein on bass, Steve Ferrone on drums and Scott Thurston on guitar and harmonica — they all contribute to the tight rock ‘n’ roll sound the Heartbreakers are known for. They got a little psychedelic in “It’s Good To Be King.” They got a little folksy on “You Don’t Know How It Feels.”
The 2-hour-and-15-minute hit parade also included — of course – “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and “Refugee.” After a few hard-clanging jams, the ‘Breakers played encores of “Free Fallin’,” “American Girl” and Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women No. 12 and 35” before breaking camp for the night.
While Jackson Browne doesn’t have the catalog of hits that Petty does, fans got a bunch of them with the melodious rocker’s opening set.
Browne, dressed in a light green, short-sleeved shirt and black pants, started with “Boulevard.” He seemed glad to be in Saratoga.
“I can’t even count how many times I’ve played here,” he said. “Always a pleasure to be here.”
With four musicians with him, the audience got most of the pleasure. Browne moved swiftly from song to song, and was in robust voice for the semi-haunting “Barricades of Heaven.” Heartbreaker Scott Thurston joined the gang for “The Pretender,” and stayed for the rest of the set.
And that set included the part of the show that rocked the most. “Somebody’s Baby,” “Running on Empty” and “Doctor My Eyes” were all well-received by the attentive and appreciative early crowd.