Winwood Builds It Up; Heartbreakers Break It Down
By Curtis Ross
The Tampa Tribune — July 17, 2008
A great band with a set of great songs is all well and good. But Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers also know how to play.
Jamming seems like the wrong word — Petty and his band aren’t The Grateful Dead, willing to go out on — and sometimes off of — a limb in search of sonic nirvana.
But, man, when the Heartbreakers break it down, they break it down.
“Saving Grace” was where Petty and right-hand man Mike Campbell took flight Wednesday night before a St. Pete Times Forum crowd of 16,543.
The song, from Petty’s 2006 solo album “Highway Companion,” is built around a Slim Harpo riff, but rather than indulging in some predictable blues soloing, the guitarists headed in another direction, droning and chiming away into Byrds-like controlled psychedelia.
Maybe they do that every night. But it sounded fresh and spontaneous. It’s a moment not on the recorded version. It’s why we go see great bands play live instead of just staying home and listening to the albums.
Besides, if Petty played nothing but the hits, you’d barely hear him. The crowd’s singing — and yours, too, most likely — was just as audible as the band on favorites such as opener “You Wreck Me,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “Listen to Her Heart.”
Petty also dropped in a true obscurity, a European B-side called “Sweet William,” a slow but stomping blues with a double-time break a la The Yardbirds. Benmont Tench accented the tune with some dirty, soulful organ fills.
Add “Breakdown,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and “Even the Losers” and, well, if you’re a Petty fan there still are probably a dozen songs you wish he’d played. But not so much that you’re complaining.
Even in the nosebleed section, opening act Steve Winwood’s distinctive voice was instantly identifiable.
Winwood mixed in tracks from this year’s “Nine Lives” album with familiar cuts from his 40-plus year career. That the newer material didn’t pale terribly in the presence of the mighty “Can’t Find My Way Home” or “Dear Mr. Fantasy” suggests Winwood is in no danger of having to rest on his laurels.
Even “Higher Love,” from his slick, ’80s hit-making days, was given a percussive roughing up, and sounded all the better for it.