Tom Petty, up late and just cooking
By Patrick Berkery
The Philadelphia Inquirer — December 5, 2002
If you’re wondering how six middle-aged musicians – two balding, one paunchy, and their leader showing jowls – could whip an arena full of people into a rafter-shaking frenzy ’round about 11 on a school night, just watch Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers blaze a vapor trail through the ending of “Runnin’ Down a Dream” sometime.
Petty’s highway jam put a fevered exclamation point on the band’s regular set Tuesday at a nearly sold-out First Union Spectrum, and set the stage for a dizzying encore of “You Wreck Me,” Chuck Berry’s “Carol,” and a spry “American Girl.”
In attempting to weave the corporate-tainting-of-America concept of his new album, The Last DJ, into the 23-song set – while playing the staples and the occasional deep cut, such as the 1979 gem “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)” – Petty and his crack Heartbreakers took some time getting their feet underneath them.
The Last DJ’s title track opened the show with a steady jangle and mellifluous harmonies. But slow-to-midtempo new fare such as “Have Love Will Travel” and the plodding “Joe” failed to connect with a crowd that seemed restless for some hits.
Petty obliged their desire for something familiar with dependable readings of “Refugee” and “Free Fallin’.” But the real payoffs came from an elegiac version of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” and the paisley guitar wash of new songs including “Lost Children” and “Can’t Stop the Sun.”
Petty’s words in the hushed opening verse of the latter (“But you can’t steal/ what you can’t feel/ can’t stop the sun from shining”) proved that few make defiance sound so sweet. And the band’s two-plus hours onstage showed that fewer still are aging as gracefully.