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By Peter Relic
Rolling Stone #982 — August 14, 2005
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | ★★★★ | Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Irvine, California | August 14, 2005
Petty and the world’s greatest bar band make the hits come alive.
Just a few months shy of their thirtieth anniversary, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers found themselves at home in Southern California near the end of a summer tour for what could have been a valedictory stroll through hitsville Instead, starting with 1978’s “Listen to Her Heart” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels” off 1994’s Wildflowers, Petty burned through his songbook and made a powerful claim to be at a career performance peak.
In a blue velvet blazer, his skinny jeans held up by a gold-plated belt, Petty spent the show on the move, from the first shuffle set of “Breakdown” to slow-motion duck-walking and arms-akimbo spins that would do Stevie Nicks proud. Flanked by two piano players, including lifelong accomplice Benmont Tench, Petty transformed the radio-ready luster of back-to-back hits “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Free Fallin'” and “I Won’t Back Down” into pounding gut checks with braying harmonies. During “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” big, billowing clouds of stinky-sweet smoke drifted across the open-air amphitheater, but lest anyone grow placid, the Heartbreakers tore into the Animals’ “I’m Cryin'” with suitable bar-band abandon.
Age has accented Petty’s quarter-Cherokee heritage, his wizened face as finely grained as North Florida pine. But there was nothing wooden about his delivery, as Petty played more than a different guitars, pulling out a box-bodied Bo Diddley model on a version of Them’s “Gloria” that included a long rap about Gloria being suspicious of Tom because, among other things, “You stink of marijuana!” During the final encore of “American Girl,” as Mike Campbell floored the accelerator on a rockabilly guitar solo, the outdoor amphitheater was a sheet of joyout faces, none happier than Petty himself.