Petty still has weak spots, but delivers
By Dan DeLuca
The Philadelphia Inquirer - August 21, 2006
It's fashionable these days to champion Tom Petty as the great under-appreciated American rock star; the steady-as-he-goes classicist who has never been given Dylan-Springsteen respect despite serving up hit after hit, year after year, since Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers came out in 1976.
Three decades later, Petty still delivers the goods with his new solo album, Highway Companion. And the 55-year-old Florida native, who brought his Heartbreakers to the Tweeter Center in Camden Friday for a sold-out show, is on what he says might be his last tour.
Isn't it finally time the rocker got his props?
But Petty's weaknesses were all too visible at the Tweeter: Is there a major American rock star with weaker stage patter or a less commanding presence?
Petty's songs are always hummable, but his weaker attempts, such "Learning To Fly" and "It's Good To Be King," are built around such lazy cliches, they cry out to be played with irony. But Petty was too chilled out to bother subverting them.
And Petty can convey such diffidence. It seems like the "It don't really matter to me" lyric from "Refugee" is his motto.
So what made the two-hour Tweeter show so surprising and satisfying is that Petty took a real chance and wore his rock-and-roll heart on his sleeve.
Instead of relying on his identifiable hits, Petty - perhaps inspired by his moonlighting gig as an XM Satellite Radio DJ - drew upon a treasure trove of blues and rock nuggets, including Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well," Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business," Howlin' Wolf's "Little Red Rooster" (with Greg Allman of openers the Allman Brothers Band sitting in) and an extended encore version of Them's "Mystic Eyes."
Petty's best songs - particularly "American Girl," as timeless, and perfect, as its title - measured up to his rock heroes. Even his tendency to retreat in the background worked in Petty's favor, because it allowed the seasoned, disciplined Heartbreakers to come to the fore.
Drummer Steve Ferrone, keyboard player Benmont Tench and multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston all shone. But the star was guitarist Mike Campbell, who looked a bit strange in dreadlocks but played impeccably all night. Principal soloist on every song, he never plays too much or too little, and was masterful at building emotional release.
The crowd got their first glimpse of Petty, along with Campbell and Tench, when they joined the Allmans for a Southern-rock version of Bob Dylan's "Highway 61," which lived up to its ambitions. The quality did not slack off when the Allmans followed it with Blind Faith's "Layla."
FOR THE RECORD - CLEARING THE RECORD, PUBLISHED AUGUST 22, 2006, FOLLOWS: A concert review of Tom Petty and the Allman Brothers Band that appeared in yesterday's Inquirer misstated the original band that performed "Layla." It was Derek & the Dominos. The review also misspelled Gregg Allman's name.