The Petty Archives

Music Review: Hit-filled Petty show is the real deal
By Justin Jacobs
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Today's classic rockers (musicians who, if they were currently on tour, would make you think "Aren't they a bit too old for that?") can generally be split into two categories.

Let's call them the Springsteens and the Jaggers; some seem like old boys who would sit down with you for a beer, while some still seem like, well, rock stars.

After witnessing Tom Petty's sold out Post-Gazette Pavilion show Tuesday night, it's clear that the 57-year-old is learning to fly high with the first group.

Now that's not to say that the show didn't rock; rather, Petty's hits-packed set kept the crowd singing, dancing and playing air guitar through every number except the few ballads (during which most played air piano and even, yes, air harmonica). Petty's inclusion comes in that his appeal is simply his realness -- the man wasn't onstage to put on a fancy show or dance around, but to play some tunes and get the crowd moving.

Legendary guitarist Steve Winwood opened the night with an energetic set that climaxed with his 1967 Spencer Davis Group hit "Gimme Some Lovin.' "

Petty and his Heartbreakers then took the stage to an eruption of applause and quickly blasted through a stream of greatest hits. The usually somber tone of "Last Dance with Mary Jane" vanished as thousands sang "Oh my my, oh hell yes," then "Won't Back Down," "Even the Losers" and "Free Fallin,' " which began with a spotlight on Petty strumming those so-familiar opening chords.

And in the age of cell phone lights, it's refreshing to know that a good rock ballad can still bring out the lighters. It was after Petty shot off some huge hits, though, that he began to have fun, retooling classics one minute ("Don't Come Around Here No More" as a haunting, piano driven balled) and pulling out more experimental lesser-known tracks the next.

Petty introduced "Sweet William," a decade old B-side never released in the states, as a tune, "We've wanted to play for awhile now." No wonder -- the dirty blues broke into a full-on rock 'n' rol l explosion with fierce solos before grooving back to the blues, showing that, though these boys have been at it for three decades plus, this rock show isn't by the book.

Every solo of the night felt inspired, even the familiar licks of "The Waiting" and the explosive encore "Runnin' Down a Dream."

Unlike many an arena rocker, for Petty, a rock show isn't something that's rehearsed -- it's real, it's dangerous and spontaneous. And the man himself proved similarly real -- his commentary ("I'm havin' a really good time up here!") and demeanor (deafening chants of "PETTY!" left him waving away the attention before cracking a sly grin), along with a huge catalogue of hits and obvious faith in the power of rocking out, made for a show well worth the waiting.