Concert review: Petty shows he's still a rock star
By Heather Lalley
The Spokesman-Review - May 14, 2001
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers | with The Wallflowers, Saturday, May 12, at the Gorge
Tom Petty, the story goes, was inspired to become a musician after meeting Elvis Presley.
So it's only fitting that Petty, with his band The Heartbreakers, would bring a touch of The King to The Gorge Saturday for a sold-out, season-opening show.
For all his mellow, laid-back persona, it's clear that Petty, after a quarter-century in the business, knows how to be a Rock Star. And, what's more, he really digs it.
Petty ambled onstage in faded jeans, an untucked white oxford and a blue blazer encrusted with glistening jewels that would've made Elvis proud. A striped scarf tied once around his neck fluttered in the wind.
With an exaggerated strum of his guitar, Petty kicked off the 90-minute performance with 1989's "Runnin' Down a Dream." The song was the first of many -- some reaching far back into The Heartbreakers' library -- to showcase the band's strong backing abilities.
Benmont Tench's keys twinkled and Mike Campbell's guitar expertly shifted from quite expressiveness to muscular rock. Also complementing The Heartbreakers' sound was bassist and back-up singer Howie Epstein , drummer Steve Ferrone, and harmonica.bass/guitar/keyboard-player Scott Thurston. They played like musicians who have worked together for years, which they have, stepping forward at just the right times but never overshadowing Petty, the obvious star of the show.
And Petty, in his understated way, knows how to lead a band; an upturned eyebrow here, a simple gesture there. At times, though, the Rock Star leapt out.
Witness the driving, freight-train-like tune "Too Much Ain't Enough" off the band's second album. Petty, his bejeweled back to the audience, legs slightly apart, raised his right arm to 45 degrees, commanding the band to a full stop before launching back into the hard-charging tune.
It was one of the best moments in a night full of them.
Among the highlights was the revved-up opening set by The Wallflowers. Watching them power through hits like "Sleepwalker," "Sixth Avenue Heartache,: "Three Marlenas," "One Headlight" and "The Difference," it's near-impossible to forget that frontman Jakob Dylan is Bob's son. The resemblance is striking, through Jakob thankfully doesn't talk like he's storing nuts for winter in his mouth.
Petty was at his best when pounding out his signature guitar anthems about average guys aspiring to greatness. The 20,000-strong crowd sang along during "I Won't Back Down," "Breakdown" (his first hit), "Billy the Kid," and "It's Good To Be King."
Later in the evening, Petty, now in a leather vest, his sleeves rolled up, let even looser with some covers, including the danceable, rockabilly tune "Guitar Boogie Shuffle," the bluesy "Little Red Rooster" and Merle Haggard's loping country song "Swinging Doors." He saved a few of his biggest hits for last, including "Walls (Circus)" off 1996's "She's the One" soundtrack and "Mary Jane's Last Dance."
After dancing offstage, his arms outstretched like a bird, Petty and crew came back for an all-too-short, two-song encore of "Free Fallin'" and "American Girl."
Early in the show, Petty remarked on the absence of onstage video screens. For the benefit of the crowd far away on the lawn, Petty said, "I'll tell you what you're missing. I'm very tan and young." Neither, of course, was true. But none of that matters when you're The King.