Petty provides the power, nature adds to the flash
By Joe Sweeney
The Buffalo News — June 23, 2008
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | With Steve Winwood on Saturday night in Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.
Being original is overrated. Just ask Tom Petty. For the past 30 years, he’s been making music that has the earthy swagger of the Stones, the shimmering jangle of the Byrds, the bluesy poetry of Dylan and the palpable energy of Springsteen. From his self-titled debut in 1976 to 2006’s understated, bittersweet “Highway Companion,” Petty has worn his influences proudly and prominently — so much so that he ended up with a beloved, utterly recognizable sound.
Apart from a little synthesizer tinkering in the ’80s, fans of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers have always known what to expect — focused, hook-filled, guitar- driven rock songs that are a little Southern-fried, a bit folk-ified and totally primed to be played on open roads and around smoking grills. And during his set Saturday night at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, Petty kept the streak alive in dramatic fashion.
Hitting the stage to the hysterical screams of the very sold-out, sardine can of a crowd, Petty flashed a huge grin as he strummed the opening chords of “You Wreck Me,” a track off his “Wildflowers” album that pretty much encapsulates what he’s all about — three chords, lyrics about love’s power and an incredible band that injects feeling and meaning into it all. Wearing a purple velour jacket, jeans and a raggedy beard, the charismatic Petty was in a crowd-pleasing mood.
The set list alone is a testament to that. Petty tore through hit song after brilliant hit song, following “You Wreck Me” with an incredible string of classics — “Listen to Her Heart,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Even the Losers” and “Free Fallin’.” And the effect of these wry, catchy, defiant and poignant tunes was so universal, even Mother Nature had to comment.
During Petty’s superb, determined take on “I Won’t Back Down,” jagged bolts of lightning sliced the sky. As the threatening weather got closer, Petty sang the lines “Gonna stand my ground/Won’t be turned around.” A few songs later, he had a chance to put his money where his mouth is.
In the middle of yet another irresistible hit single, “Last Dance With Mary Jane,” the power crashed on stage. Amid the surprised hush of the crowd, you could hear Petty still strumming his acoustic guitar, and drummer Steve Ferrone keeping the beat. As the juice returned, the band finished the song with a renewed sense of purpose — it was a truly spine-tingling moment.
The weather continued to wreak havoc as the show continued, with the power briefly cutting out a second time. Through it all, Petty clearly never wanted the party to end, treating the crowd to “Breakdown,” “The Waiting,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” the Traveling Wilburys’ gem “End of the Line” and many others. Thanks to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll was alive on this night, regardless of what was hurtling from the heavens.
Steve Winwood opened the show with a captivating set of his own, rooted in tight, ambitious pop-jazz-fusion jams.
Tackling tunes from his recent album “Nine Lives,” classic Blind Faith and Traffic songs, and other selections from his solo canon, Winwood and his ace four-piece band delivered a delightfully eclectic set.
Through it all, Winwood’s strong, ever-so-slightly weathered voice was a pleasure.