The Petty Archives

Petty, Heartbreakers show they still rock with the best of them in Tampa show
By Jim Abbott
Orlando Sentinel - July 19, 2008

TAMPA -- After Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played the Super Bowl, there was a lot of noise about how maybe the band was too old to rock.

Well, these guys are no spring chickens, but an old-school concert Wednesday at the St. Pete Times Forum showed that the Florida-bred vets know more about rock shows than some of the kids.

Petty and the Heartbreakers played about two hours on Wednesday, a set laden with hits and a few well-timed surprises. Oh, the songs are pretty good, too. Even a relatively forgotten gem, such as "Even the Losers," is a well-constructed combination of words and melodic twists.

Most of the tunes, of course, are instantly recognizable radio staples: "I Won't Back Down," "Free Fallin'," "Runnin' Down a Dream," "American Girl." Like the Eagles (another pretty good group), Petty and the band execute signature songs with studio precision. Even a complex sonic excursion such as "Don't Come Around Here No More" unfolds as one remembers it.

Other songs have evolved over the years. "Learning to Fly" is now more of a gospel sing-along, with Petty's acoustic strumming as the backdrop for the big chorus.

On the harder-rocking songs, guitarist Mike Campbell was the most prominent weapon. In addition to his fiery crescendo at the end of "Runnin' Down a Dream," he excelled at the snarling, distorted riffs beneath "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and the psychedelic solo in the encore tear through Van Morrison's "Mystic Eyes."

Benmont Tench also had a moment to shine in the latter song, delivering grand arpeggios.

Petty, Campbell and Tench, the three original members, exude a sense of brotherhood. There's a sense of rock history embedded in the band's DNA, reflected in the selection of opening act Steve Winwood.

The iconic rocker delivered extended jams on "Higher Love," "Gimme Some Lovin' " and others. He's another old guy who still gets it done.