Dependable Petty delivers standards, plus a few surprises
By Joshua Klein
Chicago Tribune — September 16, 2006
Tom Petty’s been a superstar, unlikely MTV icon, new wave hotshot, old school traditionalist and even, in his youth, an unlikely punk. But no matter what his guise, the gangly 55-year-old Florida native has remained a paragon of consistency.
If that means Petty’s performance at the Charter One Pavilion on Thursday night, the first of two shows, was generally by the numbers, so what? Most acts (including openers the Strokes) would kill for those numbers. Several of the songs Petty played over the course of his modest two-hour set have long since become standards, the likes of “American Girl” and “Refugee” up there with the best American rock ‘n’ roll classics. And if Petty didn’t make much of a case for his fine but not particularly memorable new album, “Highway Companion,” neither did songs such as “Saving Grace” or “Square One” stick out as conspicuous deviations from his canon.
It helps that Petty has been backed by a band as reliable and rock solid as the Heartbreakers for the bulk of his 30-year career. On Thursday it once again proved the rarest of beasts, a versatile and inspired outfit possessed of a jam-band’s psychic instincts but enhanced by good taste and an impeccable sense of economy. So while keyboard player Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell could stretch out a solo at Petty’s request, they were just as keen to keep it short and sweet.
The prominence and continued popularity of the numerous hits from Petty’s 1989 “Full Moon Fever” allowed him to relax and rely on the sing-along crowd, and also afforded him the opportunity to offer a couple of surprises.
When any act says it’s going to play the blues, one might expect a Muddy Waters classic, but not also a searing rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s angry flip-off “Oh Well.”
As for rumors that Petty may retire anytime soon, don’t believe the hype. Keeping a group as natural as the Heartbreakers, and a catalog as deep as Petty’s, off the road would be one of the only real missteps in a storied career.