The Palm Beach Post — July 16, 2008

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Two Solid Hours of Incredible
The Palm Beach Post — July 16, 2008

“What’s the loudest noise you can make, baby?”

The “baby” in question was the collective throng of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fans Tuesday night at Sunrise’s BankAtlantic Center, pumped up from two hours of solid sing-along rock and roll. The person asking was Petty himself, his long thin face breaking into a teasing smile as the crowd, knowing that that the next thing they were about to hear were the distinctively jangly opening chords of “American Girl.”

And while it’s hard to recreate that loudest sound in words, it was something like the audible combination of anticipation, joy and appreciation. And rest assured…it was very, very loud.

Last night’s show, the first that the Gainesville-bred Rock and Roll Hall of Famers have done in their native state on this tour, was actually two shows in one. The first was a sprawling ’70s blues jam courtesy of Steve Winwood and his remarkably unchanged, elastic soul pipes. Winwood would figure prominently in some of the best moments of the Heartbreaker’s set as well, and while the two were markedly different – one psychedelically breezy with a Latin blues kick and the other straight-ahead rock and roll, their common denominator was their shared genesis in American roots music.

And the results? It was all demonstrated in that loud, righteous sound.

Petty’s strength as a performer, and as a songwriter, seems to be his earnestness. You know he means what he’s saying, whether he’s singing about the effects of a powerful woman (set opener “You Wreck Me”), about wearily accepting responsibility for breaking an innocent heart (the always emotionally galvanizing “Free Fallin'”) or just wanting an unpleasant woman out of your face (“Don’t Come Around Here No More,” which was delivered stripped down and erupted into an insistent jam.)

You might not always like what Petty has to say, particularly if you’re the chick he’s telling not to come around anymore. But at least you know he means it.

Early in the show, Petty had the techs bring up the house lights over the audience.

“That’s a good-looking crowd!” he said, in that distinctive, reedy drawl. “That’s a Florida crowd!”

The Heartbreakers have fans everywhere, obviously, but there’s no denying the affection for them in their home state. When Petty introduced the band, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboard player Benmont Tench got the loudest applause, maybe because they’re original members and maybe because their introductions were proceeded with “and from Gainesville!”

The band works like a well-oiled machine, with even the newer members forming a tight, impenetrable force that delivered some of the Heartbreakers’ signature moments. Drummer Steve Ferrone, for instance, provided the brisk snare drum backdrop to the final verse of “Free Fallin’,” where the narrator prepares to abandon his love, regretting every step away from her but knowing he can’t stay. That drum line always gave me chills, and when the tall Ferrone leaned over to play it, it sounded even more to me like “Taps,” like the beginning of mourning.

That’s good stuff.

Also good was the aforementioned opening set by Winwood, which would have been a disappointment to casual fans only familiar with his 1980s’ comeback “Back In The Highlife.” But if you were in the mood for thoughtful, long jazz passages that melded Santana-like Latin rhythms into a couple of his biggest hits (a stripped down, mellowed-out “Higher Love” and a funkier, punchier “I’m A Man”). And they set the stage for Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” a big, gorgeous trip into psychedelic swirliness.

Later, Winwood returned to the stage to play “Gimme Some Lovin'” and “Can’t Find My Way Home” with the Heartbreakers, probably making a lot of fans very happy that he didn’t just stick to the swirly stuff, and making the usher in our section burst into a happy dance, swinging a couple of ladies on their way to the bathroom around and beaming. When his time on stage was over, Winwood hugged each of the Heartbreakers and seemed reluctant to leave just when the groove was getting good.

And even though the evening was a collective four hours of solid music, and it was time to let the Heartbreakers go sit down after putting in such an impressive effort, when it was over I kind of knew how Steve felt.

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