Decades later, Tom Petty, Jackson Browne make music that matters
By Jeffrey B. Remz
Country Standard Time — December 2002
Fleet Center, Boston, Dec. 15, 2002
BOSTON – There’s no telling if Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers saved for the best for last, but that could be arguably stared as they closed out their 2003 tour behind their “The Last DJ” release in an outing that easily demonstrated that Petty and his ace backing band are not about settling comfortably into middle age musically.
The show started with the title track, which takes aim at the increasing corporate takeover of radio in this country with a DJ playing what he wants “as we celebrate mediocrity all the boys upstairs want to see.”
The song attracted attention (and airplay) for Petty & The Heartbreakers. As well it should. It’s not exactly namby pamby, and after a long career, Petty now often seems to suffer much the same fate as other artists with longevity – minimal radio play despite making quality music in favor of flavor-of-the-month bands.
And how many of those flavors will be around in two decades and fill an arena like Petty did?
Or play at such a high level?
The band played about five songs from the new album, and almost stood up well against the better known chestnuts of yesteryear. This wasn’t some golden oldies show and certainly wasn’t the case of playing a few new mediocre songs to avoid the golden moldies tag.
The long-haired, still very lithe Petty is a fine frontman. He sings well, sometimes with a nod to Dylan, sometimes to the Beatles, sometimes to a more rootsy sound, sometimes to an American rock sound.
And Petty didn’t mind saying what was on his mind a few times either beyond the perfunctory “How we all doing?”
Before playing “The King’s Highway,” Petty told the enthusiastic crowd, “We’ve taken pride…to say we’re been brought to you with no corporate sponsorship” as the group has for the past several tours. “The audience buys the tickets, and we play the music for you,” said Petty, in asking the fans to support small business. “It’s a business we started, and we really don’t need any help from Pepsi Cola…We’re brought to you by you.”
This evening was far more than just Tom Petty. The Heartbreakers continue to be one ace band. Benmont Tench is, as always, was excellent on keyboards and piano, often bearing the brunt of making the songs go. Killer guitarist Mike Campbell rocks when needs to and does so extremely well. Original bassist Ron Blair was back replacing Howie Epstein and along with powerhouse drummer Steve Ferrone, replacing Stan Lynch, set a superb backbone throughout.
Guitarist and most importantly backing vocalist Scott Thurston also contributed to the evening of fine music. There was really not a weak song at all during the 2:20-hour set from “Learning to Fly” and “You’re So Bad” to “Refugee” and the fast and furious “Runnin’ Down the Dream,” which closed the regular set.
About the only rap is that Petty didn’t include more songs, like “Breakdown,” “Even the Losers” and “Here Comes My Girl.” If there truly is a last DJ, let’s hope Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers are on the play list.
Another veteran, Jackson Browne, opened the set. Though in his 50’s, Browne’s voice remains solidly intact. And like Petty, he, too, mixed songs from his new album, “The Naked Ride Home.”
Fortunately Browne did not have to rely on his hits of yesteryear, though he turned in strong performances of songs like “Running on Empty,” which closed the hour-long set” and particularly “Fountain of Sorrow.”
In addition to the SoCal ’70’s rock for which Browne is known, he also displayed an adeptness and comfort level with soulful, funk-oriented songs.
Browne’s star may not be what it once was, but, like Petty, he remains capable of making music for a new age.