Petty still’s got the hook on hits
By Rick Massimo
The Providence Journal — Sunday, June 19, 2005
MANSFIELD — Tom Petty isn’t the greatest singer, and he’s not much of a guitar player. But he’s had nearly 30 years of hits because he knows a hook. His best stuff is instantly and permanently memorable — come to think of it, so is his less-than-best stuff. Last night at the Tweeter Center, Petty and The Heartbreakers went through a good selection of their hits and Petty’s solo successes, though they took a while to get warmed up.
The set started off slowly, with the early single “Listen to Her Heart,” followed by “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” “Breakdown” and Petty’s solo hit “Free Fallin’.” While the renditions were impeccable, the pace was languid, not that the packed house seemed to mind.
When Petty picked up the pace, the results included a powerful version of “Don’t Do Me Like That” and a gentle but sprightly version of the Traveling Wilburys (the supergroup Petty was a member of in the late ’80s) hit “Handle With Care” (dedicated “to all Wilburys, wherever they may be traveling,” a reference to deceased members George Harrison and Roy Orbison). But the energy came back down too quickly with songs such as “I Won’t Back Down.”
In the early going, Petty hewed too closely to the recorded versions of many selections (an acoustic version of “Learning to Fly” was a welcome changeup). And all of Petty’s material had the typical boom-bap rock rhythm (though smoothly executed by drummer Steve Ferrone, who along with multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston was the only non-original Heartbreaker on stage).
Petty put two new songs into last night’s show — “Turn This Car Around” was a jaded, crawling rocker nothing out of the ordinary, but “Melinda” was a winner, with a bouncy country rhythm under its creepy lyrics and an extended piano solo from Benmont Tench.
Near the end, however, things picked up with inspired versions of the late-’70s hit “Refugee,” driven by guitarist Mike Campbell, one of the most underrated players in rock, and “Running Down a Dream,” from Petty’s first solo album, 1989’s Full Moon Fever. Then came the full-bore encores — the quick-step “You Wreck Me,” followed by a joyous version of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & #35” and a charge through their first hit, “American Girl.”
The Black Crowes opened the show by melding their trademark Southern influences with a loose, improvisatory aesthetic. Favorites such as “Jealous Again,” “Learning to Live Together” and “Soul Singin’ ” got long workouts, with songs going in wholly new directions. The jams were interesting, but not essential, and they gave the Crowes’ usually mercurial frontman, Chris Robinson, little to do for long stretches.