Frills Are Few At Tom Petty’s Party
By Kenneth Partridge
Hartford Courant — August 14, 2006
With sly grins and nonchalant strums on his Rickenbacker guitar, Tom Petty always makes it look so easy.
In Hartford Saturday night as part of what’s being billed as his last summer tour, at least for a while, Petty and his band, the Heartbreakers, presided over a rollicking party at the Dodge Music Center, giving fans exactly what they’ve come to expect over the years.
The group relied on far fewer solos and extended jams than openers the Allman Brothers, and its two-hour set was a study in the less-is-more ethos that’s been behind the greatest rock ‘n’ roll records of the past 50 years.
What Petty’s tunes may lack in inventiveness, though, they more than make up for in familiarity, likability and punch. “Listen to Her Heart” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” which opened the show, felt surprisingly fresh, despite countless spins on classic-rock radio.
On the latter, Petty hammed it up between lines, striking quasi-Elvis poses and displaying some of the offbeat humor that once led him to don Mad Hatter garb in the video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”
That song, which the band played late in the evening, energized the crowd despite a tempo that crawls most of the way through and doesn’t break open until the very end.
The response the crowd gave the sparse number was indicative of what makes Petty such an anomaly among his peers: He doesn’t have to dangle upside down on microphone stands, like Bruce Springsteen sometimes does, and he gets by just fine without all the history and cultural importance of a Bob Dylan.
The only downside is that Petty can sometimes get too laid-back, and for a stretch near the end of the night he lost some of the audience to the restrooms and beer concessions. The meandering solos on “It’s Good to Be King” felt entirely unnecessary, and “Square One,” from Petty’s latest album, “Highway Companion,” offered another opportunity for folks to sit down and rest up for the long walk back to their cars.
Luckily, Petty had an ace up his sleeve: “Learning to Fly.” As he started running through the chords on an acoustic guitar, the audience rose to its feet, clapping and singing in a chorus from the front rows to the lawn.
If it turns out this really is Petty’s last go-round, it was a fine way to say goodbye.