The Daily Californian — October 2, 2006

It’s Good to Be King
By Sean Manning
The Daily Californian — Monday, October 2, 2006

It must speak to the inherently intimate and persona-driven characteristics of rock music that so often a live performance can hinge on the mood and mentality of the performer. In a genre that’s so fixated on the individual, the frontman, or the entity, musicians become not only entertainers but also a sort of MC for the evening’s events. It’s why no matter how good Dylan’s band is, it’s up to him whether he’s still the spokesman for a generation or merely a pile of Zimmerman slumped over a piano, muttering incoherent musings to a flock of people who were born too late to catch the real deal.

Amidst this unpredictability, Tom Petty stands tall as one of the few sure-fire guarantees in the rock pantheon. For instance, if you go to see Tom Petty in concert, you can rest assured that the following will be true: Tom Petty will be happy to be there, the crowd will respond with equal enthusiasm, and yes, don’t you worry, you will get your “Freefallin’.”

As Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers took the stage at the Greek Theatre Friday night, classic rock’s dudeliest dude wasted no time in setting the tone for the evening with a barrage of first tier tunes like “Freefallin'” and the show-stopping “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” For any other artist, this could feel like cheating, even pandering, but Petty knows his strengths, and  furthermore, the audience knew what they wanted.

Petty’s radio anthems were a shot of pure joy into his two hour set-the kind of songs that inspire images of Americana in a simpler sense, not bound by wince-inducing political connotations. These are the songs you listened to driving your first car, taking your first road trip, or basically doing anything that feels like it could have come from “The Wonder Years.” And this sentimental undercurrent was visible in the manically adoring crowd: A girl stood atop a chair in the reserved area and danced alongside her father, while an older man defiantly shook his finger at an imaginary adversary during the chorus of “I Won’t Back Down.”

The crowd paid such rapt attention that Petty’s occasional turns towards album tracks seemed to represent more of a trust and rapport with the audience rather than the typical cue for attendees to refill their cups while an artist dutifully trudges through their less celebrated tunes. In fact, songs from Petty’s recent solo outing Highway Companion fared surprisingly well. The blues riffing of “Saving Grace” fit in perfectly towards the star-studded beginning of the set list, and “Driving South” was a pleasant sing-along for Petty’s well-studied fans. If anything, Petty’s set could have stood for a few more tunes from the album.

While it was nice to hear selections from every corner of Petty’s catalogue, diversity often meant a lack of focus, and some songs like “It’s Good to Be King” from Petty’s solo outing Wildflowers went on just a bit too long with jammy outros and endless soloing. Yet, every time Petty seemed to wane, he had a well-timed trick up his sleeve, the most notable of which was an appearance from Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks, who joined Petty on songs like “Quit Draggin’ My Heart Around” and “American Girl.”

After 30 years, Tom Petty has more than enough memorable hits to make a Friday night concert fly by. What made the veteran’s appearance at the Greek memorable was his ability to pour every ounce of himself into his songs with striking sincerity and energy, even though he’s probably been doing this same show for a while now. Still, when an artist puts on a show that’s this fun, it’s hard to really split hairs.

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