The Petty Archives

Tried and true: Tom Petty adds a few twists to old favorites
By Joshua Klein
Chicago Tribune - July 23, 2001

When Tom Petty began his rise to fame, many people wrote him off as just another pale imitation of either Bob Dylan, The Byrds or Bruce Springsteen. Twenty-five years into a career that has defied expectations, Petty is now in a position most artists would kill for: His catalog is like classic rock's Fort Knox, a deep cache of hits and classics.

But Petty's perennial popularity also poses the same problem faced by many of his peers. If he plays just the songs his fans want to hear, he'll be accused of courting nostalgia. If he peppers his sets with too many new songs at the exclusion of some old nuggets, he's bound to disappoint the people that put bread on his table.

Petty had a couple of factors working in his favor at the Tweeter Center Friday night. First, the mild reception to his last studio album, 1999's "Echo," made the decision to avoid newer tracks (save the fine "Billy The Kid") a no-brainer. Second, Petty has amassed so many hits and beloved album tracks that even a "greatest hits" set did not preclude variety.

Amid the more familiar fare, a laid-back Petty played a few surprises, including a graceful rendition of "The Best of Everything" and an acoustic "Learning To Fly." But the best way for fans to approach a set that ranged from the driving "Runnin' Down a Dream" to a lengthy "You Don't Know How It Feels" was to revel in the details that Petty's band the Heartbreakers provided. Drummer Steve Ferrone's subtle shuffles on "Breakdown" and "Good to be King" were snazzy, and organist Benmont Tench embellished the still-rebellious "Refugee" with little flourishes. Bassist Howie Epstein anchored "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and enhanced it with his backing vocals. Then there was guitarist Mike Campbell, probably the most essential component, whose perfect arpeggios on "Here Comes My Girl" and compact solo on "I Won't Back Down" epitomized class and creativity.

Petty's show didn't lack a little hubris. Though Petty released his second best-of collection late last year, this tour saw him supporting mostly his reputation. With across-the-board concert revenues down a great deal from last year's haul, it took guts on Petty's part to coast into town, even if he is doing better than a lot of other acts on the road right now. But as Petty backed opener Jackson Browne on "Take It Easy," blazed through a cover of Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" and performed "American Girl" like it was the first time, it became clear why he wanted to hit the stage again: Years after his start, he's still having a ball.