Heartbreakers Rock The Garden
By Jim Farber
New York Daily News — Wednesday, June 21, 2006
This year, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers will blow out 30 candles on their birthday cake. So it made sense that last night at Madison Square Garden they celebrated with a concert that was mostly sweet.
Leaning heavily into hits, the show opened with the jingle-jangle chords of “Listen to Her Heart,” one of the best songs the Byrds never got around to writing. From there, they zigzagged through three decades of material that could just as easily have come from the same era.
Not only have Petty and his band changed little over the years, some of their best songs celebrate constancy for its own sake. One of the highlights of last night’s show, “I Won’t Back Down,” drove the point home.
As always, Petty understated the verses before amping up the choruses, creating a one-two punch of dignity and defiance.
Having released their debut album in the country’s bicentennial year, Petty and the Heartbreakers’ music has always reflected this country’s sound as well as its backbone. In their folk, rock and pop influences you hear hints of both the rootsiness of the band’s Southern birthplace and the summery freedoms of its later Los Angeles home.
Songs from last night like “Free Fallin’ ” nailed the latter sensibility, complete with its ironic awareness that freedom holds its own kind of trap.
The 55-year-old Petty didn’t spend the entire night staring into the rearview mirror. Several songs turned up from the singer’s new solo album, “Highway Companion,” due out July 25. One, “Saving Grace,” matched its own tune to a classic boogie beat. Petty and the band also hauled out “Handle With Care,” a rarely performed number from the leader’s offshoot act, the Traveling Wilburys. Another surprise was a cover of the old Fleetwood Mac snaking blues staple “Oh Well.”
At the show’s center, Petty introduced Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks to belt their tandem hit, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Nicks put even more bite into the lead vocal on “I Need To Know,” which she delivered like a young Patti Smith.
At times, the moseying pace of the performance showed a bit too much of the Heartbreakers’ Dixie origins. And with all the hits here, you couldn’t exactly call this show adventurous. But with their anniversary as its hook, and a vague threat that this may be the band’s last full tour, Petty can’t be blamed for running a victory lap. Especially one that’s so richly deserved.