Live & On Record: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Mixing the Old With the New
By Tom Kielty
The Boston Phoenix — December 19, 2002
Wrapping up a tour in support of his latest studio album, The Last DJ (Warner Bros.), Tom Petty brought his seasoned band to the FleetCenter last Saturday to perform a set that offered a little something for everyone. And in Petty’s case, “everyone” means three decades worth of fans from a wide array of socio- economic backgrounds, including the old hippies who jumped on the Petty bandwagon when he and his Heartbreakers toured as Bob Dylan’s backing band and the MTV generation who helped make his psychedelic “Don’t Come Around Here Anymore” single a fixture on the music-video channel throughout the ’80s. This means he’s one of those rare performers who’s established enough to fill a venue as large as the FleetCenter without touring behind a current hit album. But it also means he has to craft a live show that can satisfy a wide range of fans.
Striding onto an austere stage, the band let their music do the talking as they worked through more than two hours of material drawn from every stage of their career. There was a healthy sampling of tracks from The Last DJ: Petty opened with the title track and sprinkled four more tunes from the new album throughout the set. We also got the kind of fun rarities that seasoned bands often break out at the end of a long tour, if for no other reason than to amuse themselves. In this case that included covers of the Byrds’ “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” Chuck Berry’s “Carol,” and the Traveling Wilburys track “Handle with Care.”
But as you’d expect, the band’s greatest hits dominated. And after bolting upright out of their seats for the mellow rocker “Last Dance with Mary Jane,” old and new fans alike would sink back into their chairs when Petty interrupted the flow with the new “Can’t Stop the Sun.” Still, he did a good job of balancing the show between simply offering a greatest-hits set and digging out his favorite deep cuts from albums that he’d released before some of the audience members were born. So he followed “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid),” a charging classic from his 1979 album Damn the Torpedoes, with the swaying Top 40 sing-along “Won’t Back Down.” And if some of his younger fans weren’t familiar with Chuck Berry’s “Carol,” well, he was kind enough to follow it up with one of his all-time crowd-pleasing favorites, “American Girl.”