Tom Petty delivers the unexpected
By Michael D. Clark
Houston Chronicle - August 7, 2006
Stevie Nicks' guest appearance is just one of the night's many surprises
Long before Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers took the stage Saturday for a retrospective celebration of their 30 years together, the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion had, for the first time this summer, that vibe that something special would happen.
Every beer run or bathroom break was made fast for fear of missing a great moment.
There were many of them.
The 20-song set list ran from 1977's American Girl to Petty's new single Saving Grace (from the just released solo album Highway Companion) and included an overflowing fountain of classic-rock covers, most rarely, if ever, played by Petty onstage.
Adding to the excitement was a special unannounced guest spot by longtime Petty collaborator Stevie Nicks.
"We're celebrating 30 years together tonight. We're gonna try to hit some of the highlights for ya," said Petty, 55, in his usual understated small-town Florida manner.
From the outset Petty weaved in and out of the different eras of his career with an opening assault that included Listen to Her Heart, You Don't Know How It Feels and Free Fallin'.
Unlike Bob Dylan, who seemed destined for greatness at an early age, Petty's mark on the rock 'n' roll landscape is only starting to be realized — though many of his fans have known all along. The crowd sang every word along with him, like a mass chorus of muffled bees.
Petty certainly took notice.
"You guys are singing so loud you're knocking us down up here," he said.
Petty was unusually giddy and chatty, frequently smiling from ear to ear.
Petty shed some light on his own fandom with a raw and decidedly un-Heartbreaker-like rendition of the Yardbirds' I'm a Man followed by a bluesy rendition of early Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac hit Oh Well.
Those covers gave a glimpse of just how versatile his band can be. It was a rare moment of private delight shared with the public. One imagines little jam sessions like that happen all the time in the studio.
It was already a generous display before Petty announced that the "influences" portion of the evening would end with a note-perfect version of the Traveling Wilburys' Handle With Care, taken from the 1988 supergroup recording Petty did with Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne.
Nicks' visit on Stop Draggin' My Heart Around left the audience feeling like a kid with too many gifts on Christmas morning. She stuck around to provide backing vocals and tambourine on other songs like the spooky and wonderful Don't Come Around Here No More.
After an encore cover of Van Morrison's Mystic Eyes (an amazing moment in itself), Nicks returned for the American Girl finale. After two hours of singing and surprises, fans began comparing notes the minute the pavilion lights went up.
Chances are talk of this show will continue for years to come.