Minneapolis Star Tribune — June 23, 2010

Tom Petty stretches his rock ‘n’ blues muscles
By Jon Bream
Minneapolis Star Tribune — June 23, 2010

Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Tom Petty came from blue-collar families, fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll as kids, launched their recording careers in the 1970s and all ended up in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

And they’re all still active and vital. Sting and Springsteen remain among the Hall of Fame’s most ambitious musicmakers. Sting, 58, performed in St. Paul Monday with a 45-piece symphony doing orchestral interpretations of his vast catalog. Since being AARP eligible, Springsteen, now 60, has become a prolific recording artist and age-defying dynamo onstage who has outdistanced his longtime bandmates.

Petty, who turns 60 in October, remains pretty much the same as he ever was. Except that the Heartbreakers, the King of Laidback Rock’s band, sound better than ever — well into their fourth decade together. On Tuesday at the Xcel Energy Center, Steve Ferrone’s drums were thick, crisp and driving, Mike Campbell’s guitar glistened, Scott Thurston’s guitar, organ and harmonica filled in the gaps, Benmont Tench’s keyboards splashed colors from a wide palette, and Ron Blair’s bass added precision bounce. When you’ve got a band that crackles like that, Petty couldn’t help but sound good.

Petty and the Heartbreakers showed their versatility during an 18-song, nearly two-hour performance. The first segment was devoted to their MTV era, with taut and potent versions of the likes of “I Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin.'” A cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” which felt more like Led Zeppelin than early Big Mac, hinted at what was to come. The Heartbreakers were going to stretch out and flex their rock ‘n’ blues muscles. “Drivin’ Down to Georgia” was a rock workout that gave way to an extended treatment of Petty’s 1976 breakthrough hit “Breakdown,” all moody and dramatic.

Then Petty and the Heartbreakers got their mojo working on a mini-set of tunes from their week-old album, the bluesy “Mojo,” their first studio recording in eight years.

But the four-song blues set proved to be little more than a detour de force. Petty and crew downshifted once again for “Learning to Fly,” the night’s biggest of many sing-alongs. The 12,807 fans clearly craved the radio hits, so, predictably, the home stretch became a classic-rock cavalacade, with the slow-burn, clap-along “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and the stinging “Refugee,” Petty’s sharpest and best rocker in his 34-year recording career.

The encore was what encores should be — some rocking with abandon (“Runnin’ Down a Dream”), a surprise, fun cover (Them’s “Mystic Eyes”) and one of the band’s own beloved hits (“American Girl”). Sting and Springsteen would have been proud of Petty, very proud.

Setlist:

Listen To Your Heart
You Don’t Know How It Feels
I Won’t Back Down
Free Fallin’
Oh Well (Fleetwood Mac, 1969)
Mary Jane’s Last Dance
Drivin’ Down to Georgia
Breakdown
Mojo material:
Jefferson Jericho Blues
First Flash of Freedom
Runnin’ Man’s Bible
I Should Have Known It
Learning To Fly
Don’t Come Around Here No More
Refugee
ENCORE
Runnin’ Down a Dream
Mystic Eyes (Them, 1965)
American Girl

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