The Petty Archives

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers start slow, finish strong
By Regis Behe
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - Wednesday, June 11, 2008

There was a reason Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' concert Tuesday at the Post-Gazette Pavilion had a rather ragged start: The band's flight to Pittsburgh was delayed by weather conditions in Washington, D.C., the group arriving at the venue just before they took the stage.

Thus, the well-oiled and usually spot-on Heartbreakers were just a bit helter-skelter in "You Wreck Me" and "Mary Jane's Last Dance."

The disarray didn't last long. Petty and his mates found their footing in the defiance of "I Won't Back Down," and the rest of the concert followed form. The Heartbreakers, like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, are emblematic of a certain strain of American music, and Americana itself.

But while Springsteen's metier is the dignity of the working class and the Monday-thru-Friday routine, Petty's music embodies the idea of release. He's Friday-night-thru-Sunday-morning rock 'n' roll, and his audience -- which ranges from teenagers to gray-haired hippies -- reflects the free-spirited bonhomie of Petty's fare. Whether it's the blues-toned 'Honey Bee" and "Cabin Down Below," or the gritty hopefulness of "Even the Losers" and "Refugee," the music taps into an inherent need for celebration and bacchanalia.

That said, Petty's concerts have taken on a ritualistic predictability the last few years. "Learning to Fly" is stripped of it's rock 'n' roll aspect and takes on a gospel-like patina by way of the call-and-response vocals Petty elicits from the audience; the great Benmont Tench provides a dazzling piano solo in "Face in the Crowd"; "Don't Come Around Here No More" carries on as an invigorating psychedelic romp; guitarist Mike Campbell adds a razor-like edge to every song.

This familiar schematic does not take away from the music's substance. Petty and his musical comrades are akin to seasoned Broadway actors who hit their marks every night: You anticipate what's coming, but the execution never fails to entertain, and often inspires.

It's a shame more people did not arrive early enough to catch Steve Winwood's opening set. The veteran British musician -- looking at least two decades younger than his 60 years -- is truly a wondrous singer, his vocals cutting through a number of pleasant-but-average songs with a calypso accent from a new album, "Nine Lives."

Winwood's best moments came when he delved into his back catalog from the Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith and Traffic. "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "Can't Find My Way Home" were especially well-received, but his rendition of "Dear Mr. Fantasy" was superb, Winwood unleashing an unexpected, transcendental guitar solo that was the evening's most glorious moment.