The Petty Archives

Concert review of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at Jiffy Lube Live
By Chris Klimek
The Washington Post - Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When Tom Petty allowed himself a few words in praise of his since-forever band, the Heartbreakers, on Sunday night at Jiffy Lube Live, he introduced drummer Steve Ferrone as "the man who gets the job done." Petty could just as easily been doing something he seems to detest: talking about himself.

Everyone knows you don't go to Tom Petty for flash or invention. You go to him for the thing he has come to embody more than any other rocker of his generation: excitement-free dependability. Since 1976, he's rarely let more than a couple of years go by without giving us another song or three that sounds just perfect on the radio of a car with the windows open. He's always made writing great -- well, greatish -- songs look easy.

So a workmanlike 100-minute set like Sunday's registers as a letdown: the same 17 or 18 songs in the same order as the night and the month before, with just enough unexceptional exceptions, such as that cover of Chuck Berry's "Carol," to prove the rule. Petty has long evinced a Zen resignation: Even on the line, "You could stand me up at the gates of Hell/But I won't back down," he sounds like he just woke up. As a result, his best-loved material has neither lost urgency nor gained resonance as he's aged (he'll turn 60 in October).

He nestled four tunes from "Mojo," the bluesy, just-released new Heartbreakers product ("Running Man's Bible" and the Led Zeppy "I Should Have Known It" were the two that went over best) deep inside a protective cocoon of a half-dozen weather-beaten classics ("Listen to Her Heart," "Learning to Fly," "Refugee") on either side. His greater interest in the new songs vs. the old was palpable. (I probably imagined the note of apology in his voice when he introduced 1991's "Kings Highway" as "an album cut.")

The multigenerational crowd bellowed along the choruses of "Free Fallin' " ("I get a lot of requests from girls for this song," Petty said) and "I Won't Back Down," but Petty seemed determined to squander their enthusiasm. After rocking out an extended bridge, or turning a song over to the audience for a verse, instead of powering through one more ecstatic chorus, he'd just unceremoniously end the number. And for a group of vets marching through the same set every night, the between-song intervals felt longer than Peter Bogdanovich's Petty documentary "Runnin' Down a Dream." (Three hours, 59 minutes, since you asked.)

The most playful part of the night was the extended breakdown in, er, "Breakdown," when Petty free-associated a few minutes of PG-rated come-ons in that sunburned voice.

"Well, what can I say?" he punted later, introducing keyboardist Benmont Tench, a founding Heartbreaker with whom he's been performing music literally since both men were children. I dunno, Tom: How about anything?