Tom Petty, Steve Winwood entertain packed house in Alpharetta
By Scott Sowers
Appen Newspapers — July 11, 2008
ALPHARETTA — It was an evening to relive the past when shades of super groups and some of the most well-known songs in rock history were played for a packed crowd at the new Verizon Amphitheatre July 9.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Steve Winwood brought their summer tour to Alpharetta and gave the crowd an evening they would never forget by playing the songs fans had come to hear as well as some surprises they may have never heard before.
Taking the stage a little after 9:30 p.m., Petty came out to a crowd that was just slightly smaller than the one he played for at the Super Bowl Halftime Show earlier this winter, but still huge nonetheless by amphitheatre standards.
Immediately going into “You Wreck Me,” Petty showed he is the consummate showman, almost leading his band like a conductor would an orchestra; he waves his arms and directs the music whilst also taking time to play his guitar. This motioning would be on display towards the end of the set when he directed the crowd in singing the chorus to his slower hit, “Learning to Fly.”
The first half of the set strayed towards some of the man’s biggest hits, including “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin'” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” From what I’ve read, most of the sets on his tours are pretty predictable, just maybe a change in the song order here and there, but there was one surprise at this show that Petty had not done all tour.
He called to the stage a fellow by the name of Tom Leadon, who along with Petty and a couple of the other Heartbreakers, form the band Mudcrutch, the early predecessor to the Heartbreakers. Earlier this year the band reformed and cut an album, and this was the first time that they had busted out any of those songs during this particular tour (although Mudcrutch themselves toured earlier in the year).
With a band name like that, it’s no surprise that the songs sound a little swampy, which makes sense given Petty’s Florida roots. They performed “Scare Easy” and “Lover of the Bayou.” So even though Petty’s run through these summer tours year after year, there’s still a few tricks up the old man’s sleeve.
Earlier in the evening, English rock icon Winwood strolled out on stage and doled out a little more than an hour’s worth of songs spanning his career. Winwood has played in numerous bands over the years, but as of late has focused on his solo career. Luckily his voice, one of the most soulful and distinctive in all of rock, is still very much intact, and the combination of that and his adept organ and guitar skills make for an entertaining opening set for sure.
He got big cheers for hits like “Higher Love” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” but for me the true highlight came when he busted out “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” a number from his days with Traffic and also one of my favorite songs. I read that he doesn’t perform it much at all anymore, but I was all smiles when he did.
Winwood’s night wasn’t done however, as about midway through Petty’s set, he was called back on stage for a couple of songs. Petty said that Winwood is someone he’s admired a lot over his career, so the partnership was an interesting one to see. They started off with Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” a song from when Winwood shared a band with Eric Clapton; one of the world’s first super groups.
Next Winwood took off his guitar and strolled over to the organ for “Gimme Some Lovin’,” from a band Winwood played in when he was only 15, the Spencer Davis Group.
Petty also took some time during his set to rattle off a song from a super group of his own, the Traveling Wilburys’ “End of the Line.” If you haven’t heard of them, they were the super group to end them all combining the likes of Petty, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne of the Electric Light Orchestra. The two records they cut come with my highest recommendation.
But still, it was Petty and the Heartbreakers’ night as they still had more hits to play including the encore of “Running Down a Dream” and everyone’s favorite: “American Girl.”
The Heartbreakers are a remarkable backing band, led by who Petty calls the co-captain, Mike Campbell on lead guitar. Campbell is the man handling the solos, and it was a shame the camera crew at the amphitheatre wouldn’t cut to him more often when soloing.
We don’t need to see Petty strumming his guitar at all times. After all it’s not like some other solo acts where no one knows the name of the backing band. We know who these guys are.
Some much needed rain rolled through the area before the show, but it did little to deter the sellout crowd there to see two absolute icons from the annals of rock and roll. All the weather did by show time was cool things off considerably making for a pleasant evening. Lightning flashed all around during some of Petty’s set, which added a nice touch to the already heavily involved light show on stage.
After decades in the biz together, Petty and Winwood still make for an exciting show and don’t seem ready to slow down yet.