Petty Sees Beyond Hype, Plays Solid Set
By Curtis Ross
The Tampa Tribune — February 4, 2008
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ unpretentious, no-frills rock ‘n’ roll might seem out of place amid the glitz
and glamour now associated with Super Bowl halftime shows.
But the six-piece crew held strong in front of what probably was its biggest ever television audience.
The show opened in darkness as an illuminated outline of a Gibson Flying V guitar moved toward and eventually pierced a heart to form a stage shaped like the Heartbreakers’ logo.
A blast of pyrotechnics – the sort of rock show cliche in which Petty never indulges – announced the start of the set before Petty and Mike Campbell’s guitars kicked off “American Girl.”
Petty, bearded and bundled up against the unusually damp Arizona weather, looked nonplussed by the hoopla surrounding him, including a crowd of well-scrubbed and wholesomely enthusiastic fans surrounding the stage (likely extras from the Super Bowl festivities – are the crowds around you at concerts ever that clean and pretty?)
From there it was into “I Won’t Back Down” (lyrics flashed on screens behind the band), “Free Fallin'” (crowd holding cell phones aloft, near-synchronous swaying) and “Runnin’ Down a Dream” (Campbell’s guitar skills outshone any special effects).
As a Petty concert, it barely whetted the appetite. For a breather between halves, though, you could hardly ask for more.
And Petty and the Heartbreakers, who just may be the best veteran band still on the road – and are heading to Tampa in July – certainly deserved the exposure.
The same couldn’t be said about pregame entertainer Paula Abdul. Fox chose to shamelessly plug “American Idol” by having Abdul, one of the show’s judges, perform a new song, “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow,” with fellow judge Randy Jackson thumping the bass behind her.
The tune was the sort of anonymous dance pop proffered by Britney Spears, Janet Jackson and countless lesser lights.
Pregame show host Ryan Seacrest (also the host of “American Idol” – starting to see a connection?) pointed out that this was Abdul’s first recording in a decade. Why now, Paula? Why at all?
Alicia Keys was typically dazzling with her medley of hits, but Sara Evans added nothing to her duet with Willie Nelson on “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.”