The Petty Archives

Petty delivers the hits and more
By Jonathan Perry
Boston Globe - June 23, 2006

MANSFIELD -- Somewhere along the line when we all weren't looking -- maybe we were paying attention to flashy stadium superstars or frothing over indie-rockers with cool haircuts -- Tom Petty became a rock 'n' roll institution. And yet somehow, that description seems too ossified, too staid for a twinkle-eyed rascal like Petty. Or maybe, it doesn't seem applicable to a rock dreamer who still so obviously, so fervently, believes in the dream.

This year, Petty and his brilliant band the Heartbreakers are celebrating their 30th anniversary as one of the finest, most enduring outfits in rock 'n' roll. Already in possession of a treasure chest filled with pop jewels about American girls and free-falling refugees, Petty didn't need a two-hour, 21-song set of classics to stump for the rich legacy to which he keeps adding pearls.

That he gleefully threw that chest wide open because that's what he still lives to do (digging into time-tripping cover s of Them's "Mystic Eyes" and the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac chestnut "Oh Well") is what makes Petty an artist, not a nostalgia act. Even the sold-out audience that packed the Tweeter Center didn't seem prepared for the sustained sizzle and lavish surprises in store when Petty and Co. blasted into "Listen to Her Heart," his clipped sneer in place, the band roaring like a locomotive.

Like the "co-captain" Petty introduced him as, Heartbreakers lead guitarist Mike Campbell has always been the band's not-so secret weapon. His bag of riffs and solos lent sinewy crunch to "Mary Jane's Last Dance," soared regally on "Runnin' Down a Dream," and wept slide-soaked tears on "I Won't Back Down" and the new "Saving Grace," from Petty's forthcoming "Highway Companion."

It's a tall order to expect a new song to stand amid the canon that was on display Wednesday. Then again, all of these songs were new once, and "Saving Grace," a John Lee Hooker-esque snake-charmer with a boogie beat, fit right in. The fact that it was nestled near a heady cover of "I'm a Man," the Bo Diddley blues tune dressed up in Yardbirds finery, didn't hurt.

Halfway through the show, Stevie Nicks, who's been touring with the band, took the stage for a sublime duet with Petty on the lovely breakup ballad "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" and then stuck around for another world-weary duet with him on "The Insider." The jubilant encore-closer, "American Girl," had Petty and Nicks championing the dreams of a young woman striving, much like Petty himself, toward tomorrow.

Early arrivals caught Trey Anastasio's superb 60-minute opening set that fused sun-dappled space jams with metallic funk and jazz-rock textures.