Nothing Petty About This Powerhouse
By Jim Farber
New York Daily News — Monday, December 16, 2002
Crankiness brings out the best in some people – Tom Petty among them.
At his Madison Square Garden show with The Heartbreakers Friday, Petty featured material from his new album “The Last DJ,” which carps about the sorry state of pop music with the fed-up candor of a classic old coot.
“There goes the last human voice,” sang Petty woefully in his opening number, which serves as the CD’s title track.
Yet, for the next two hours and 15 minutes, Petty and his band played with a joy and finesse that completely overrode his budding role as codger. In fact, Petty’s critique of what he sees as the greed and shallowness of current pop seems to have revitalized him. While his shows in the last decade could often amble and mosey, this one crackled and stomped. It was the most animated Heartbreakers’ show I’ve seen in 20 years.
Credit a key part of that to stalwart drummer Steve Ferrone, who punched every beat to the rafters. Petty himself mixed up more leads than usual with Mike Campbell. In chunky numbers like “Last Dance With Mary Jane” and “Refugee,” the whole band kicked as hard as Crazy Horse.
For long-time fans, the 24-song set included some rare treats, like 1979’s “Shadow Of A Doubt,” and an acoustic “King’s Highway.” Petty also included the Traveling Wilburys’ hit “Handle With Care” (as a nod to late member George Harrison), and a cover of the Byrds’ “Feel A Whole Lot Better.”
Petty has never been shy about touting the past over the present. Even in his own pop heyday of the ’70s and ’80s, he sounded like a guy who wished he were working in the ’60s, alongside key influences like The Byrds, Dylan and the Beatles (in that order). If that keeps Petty in his place, Friday’s show suggested he couldn’t get stuck in a richer rut.