Tom Petty Shows He's Aged Well
By Eric R. Danton
Hartford Courant - June 13, 2008
Tom Petty declared two years ago that he was no longer interested in mounting full-scale national concert tours.
Wednesday night, he and the Heartbreakers played Dodge Music Center in Hartford as part of a 38-date summer tour. If that's not full-scale, nothing is, especially given the size of Petty's innovative stage set.
Like the trunk of a huge tree, four curving steel light rigs rose in gentle arcs from a central spot onstage, branching into a canopy of video screens overhead along the front of the stage, with LED video cubes hanging over the band.
It was a focal point during the show, but not the focal point. That, of course, was the music.
Petty and his band played for nearly two hours, emphasizing their well-loved older material, with a handful of newer and obscure numbers thrown in.
He and the band were in an expansive mood, adding measures for guitarist Mike Campbell to noodle around on opener "You Wreck Me," giving pianist Benmont Tench room to play on the somber "Face in the Crowd " and extending "Saving Grace" into a fiery jam.
Petty's distinctive voice - that flat, nasal twang - has stood up well over the years, though he strained a little on the high end of "Even the Losers." He had plenty of help, however: The crowd often sang as loud as Petty did, and he noticed.
"I can hear you out there singing," he said after "Mary Jane's Last Dance." "Let's all do one together."
The sizable audience was happy to join in on the next tune, "I Won't Back Down," and also sang "Free Fallin'," "Breakdown," "You Don't Know How It Feels" and an acoustic version of "Learning to Fly." He's been playing the latter song that way in concert since at least the mid-'90s, and it's still mesmerizing.
Apart from "Sweet William," a song he released on a German EP, most of the songs on Petty's set list have received substantial radio play over the years, and it made rockers like "Refugee" feel timeless, like visiting with old friends.
"Refugee" ended the main set, though Petty returned for a three-song encore that started with the taut riff from "Runnin' Down a Dream" and included a fast cover of the blues standard "Baby Please Don't Go," set to a boom-chicka-boom rhythm. The band ended with "American Girl."
Steve Winwood opened the show with a mix of tunes from his new album, "Nine Lives," and songs spanning his lengthy career. The latter drew the biggest cheers, especially "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and "Gimme Some Lovin'."