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It’s good to be king: Tom Petty at SPAC.

photo:Joe Putrock

We Got Lucky
By John Brodeur

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Black Crowes

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, July 30

Ask anyone who’s seen one of the bajillion Eagles or Stones late-career tours, and they’ll say something like, “Sure, they were good, but they aren’t the same band they used to be.” It’s true—more often than not, once bands reach the 30-year mark, they start piling on kindling to feed the bonfire, adding auxillary members to cover the fact that the principal players have gone to pot.

Somehow Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have avoided the late slide. They are the band they used to be (more true than ever with original bassist Ron Blair back in the fold), mostly because they’ve never had to rely on flash to sell their music. At Saturday night’s SPAC show, the most dazzling effect was a neon-bordered, multipanel screen that looked left over from the band’s ’85 tour. No fireworks necessary here; it’s all about that fine, fine music, a glossary of summer sounds that, along with its author, has aged remarkably well. It’s not like the audience was paying attention to the stage anyway—from the smell of things on the hill, they were much too busy getting fried. (Can you blame them? On quick count, Petty’s had about 13 hit singles about smoking grass.)

Speaking of fried, Petty came decked out in an olive-green suede jacket and grungy black T-shirt, with a paisley scarf loosely knotted ’round his neck. Between the retirement-home rummage-sale outfit and the hippy-dippy arm waving, he accidentally resembled Stevie Nicks. But musically, Grandma Tom was in fine form, leading the Heartbreakers through 20 tunes, selected from every phase of his long career.

With no new product to promote, this easily could have been a gutless greatest-hits romp, but Petty’s too smart a performer for that. Instead, the set list ran the gamut from the expected (the early-set crowd pleaser “You Don’t Know How It Feels”) to the surprising (an exquisite “Angel Dream”; Petty remarked that this was among his favorite songs from his own catalog), with a few sidesteps (a raucous rendition of the Animals’ “I’m Cryin’”) to keep things interesting.

Among the surprises was the band’s take on the Traveling Wilburys hit “Handle With Care.” Petty, along with ace-in-the-hole guitarist Mike Campbell, covered the George Harrison parts, while go-to guy Scott Thurston took Roy Orbison’s heavenly bridges. Stripped of its original all-star-band hokum, it showed the face of a lean rock tune with real hooks, a highlight in a show that was chock full of ’em.

More highlights: a rendition of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” on which Petty slipped fully into surrogate-Dylan mode; “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Breakdown,” both back in the rotation after quite some time; and a Western- flavored new song called “Melinda” (minus a lengthy and dull piano solo from the otherwise clutch Benmont Tench).

Drummer Steve Ferrone, an old session-and-workshop cat who just happens to spend his summers slumming it in a rock band, frequently changed up breaks and tucked needless polyrhythms into his patterns. The alterations worked sometimes, but on “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Petty actually looked to be caught off-guard by a few of the fills. Nitpicking aside, Ferrone earned his keep tenfold the moment he hit the memorable intro to “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” as Campbell, looking a bit like Gary Oldman in True Romance, broke out the Jerry Jones electric sitar for that classic lead line.

>From there, it was all aces: “Refugee” featured a Campbell solo that veered from minimalist—he stretched three notes over 16 bars—to incendiary; “Runnin’ Down a Dream” simply growled; and “American Girl” . . . well, if there’s a better summer song, I’d like to hear it. I’ll bet it’s still in radio rotation another 30 years on.

The Black Crowes finished off their hour-plus opening set with “Remedy.” Back on the road after a four-year downtime, the group sounded tight and groovy, with original drummer Steve Gorman back behind the kit and making the most of the space between the beats. Unfortunately, the nightmarish influx of traffic left a sizeable portion of the sold-out audience (including yours truly) combing greater Saratoga for a parking miracle during most of the Crowes’ set.

We’re All That

Destiny’s Child

Pepsi Arena, July 28

When was the last time you attended a pop concert with end credits?

That should give you an idea of the elaborate showmanship of the Destiny’s Child farewell tour. Thursday’s show was all about flash. The cakelike, semicircular stage had cream-colored curtains bordered at the top with a narrow, wraparound strip of video panels. The curtains doubled as a silvery screen for light projections; the panels provided a nonstop multimedia experience. The stage had trap doors; the floor rotated; and there were large moving risers.

There was singing, too. And it was a tribute to the singers (and their outsized personalities) that they were never dwarfed by bells and whistles.

After a self-congratulatory intro, the curtains opened and the trio appeared. They let loose with “Say My Name,” digging in to the song’s jealous, angry tone, which built to a kind of self-affirming, negative ecstasy.

The songs that followed were like the greatest-hits album that inevitably will follow when their current disc drops off the charts: “Bills Bills Bills,” “Independent Women, Part 1,” “Jumpin Jumpin,” “No No No,” and “Bootylicious.” It reminded everyone why Destiny’s Child, despite being famously litigious with ex-members and, well, just generally weird, were so popular—and worth listening to.

All three members—Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams and Beyoncé Knowles—seemed quite happy; the breakup must agree with them. They sounded great together, too. That their best songs were lumped together at the start, however, was the tip-off that this evening was really about the post-DC careers of Rowland and Beyoncé. Especially Beyoncé.

Rowland sang her hit (“Dilemma”), followed by Williams with a forgettable gospel tune. Then Beyoncé—who, unfortunately, did not descend from the rafters upside down while singing, as on the MTV awards—took over with “Baby Boy” and “Naughty Girl.” The gauzy softcore vibe was a striking contrast with the group’s earlier hard-edged, assertive tone; it wasn’t an improvement.

Solo spots alternated with group numbers from then on, with endless dance interludes to facilitate costume changes. It became obvious where things were headed: The penultimate number would be Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” then the trio with “Survivor.”

That’s exactly what happened. Beyoncé tore it up on “Crazy,” and all three did likewise with the anthemic “Survivor.” Folks assumed it was over, and started streaming out.

It was a trick: The group appeared (prerecorded) on the video panels, chastising folks for leaving and telling ’em, sternly, to sit back down. (They obliged.) It was an entertaining moment, and gave Destiny’s Child the last laugh.

Then the credits rolled. Showmanship triumphed, though musicianship, on occasion, battled valiantly.

Three one-name openers performed to backing tracks. Tyra danced well. Amerie demonstrated, singing with her own recorded backup vocals, that she sounds just like herself; her screechy-catchy hit “1 Thing” was great fun. Mario proved to be an ingratiating singer, but the little girls didn’t scream until he removed his shirt: It was a hormonal thing.

—Shawn Stone

Rock Me Do

The Pete Best Band

The Van Dyck, July 28

Any musician will tell you that the worst thing in the world is getting kicked out of a band. Worse than a romantic breakup, for sure. You can get over that. And if your ex-bandmates then go on and make some noise, the hurt of rejection is multiplied by cascading humiliation, anger and regret.

Pete Best is, plain and simple, the patron saint of all who have ever suffered this ignoble fate. He got it worse than anybody ever had or ever will. And here he was, with a band of Liverpudlian blokes, running the Beatles’ set list circa 1961 (the year before he got the boot).

This wasn’t a glamour show, or some cheesy B-list celebrity deal, or a watered-down nostalgia trip—it was a pro bar band playing the stuff that another pro bar band played some 45 years ago just before changing the face of pop music forever. The show was in one sense modest and understated—Best was tucked back in the corner playing a small drum kit, and came out front twice during the set to chat up the crowd—but it was as authentic as could be.

The members of the band, who looked to range in age from mid-30s to late 50s, were all dressed in black, were having a ball playing this stuff, and in the best bar-band tradition, were having more of a ball during their sizzling second set than during the moderately rocking first set. Best’s little brother Roag played on a second set of drums, and interestingly, usually played completely different, but complementary, drum parts, which added considerable power to the songs, but never cluttered them.

And what songs. “Slow Down,” “Please Mr. Postman,” “Till There Was You,” “One After 909,” a killer “P.S. I Love You,” and on and on. Various band members talked to the crowd, in that happily ascerbic manner that recalled John Lennon, but must be a wise-guy trait common to dudes from Liverpool.

It would have been fun to hear a few stories out of Best, who looked trim, fit and happy. But he brought the early gestalt of the greatest band ever to the Van Dyck, and you can’t ask for any more than that.

—Paul Rapp

Local 5-1-8 representer Dezmatic hosted a burlesque show featuring the beautiful Lipstick Lovelies at the Lark Tavern on Saturday night (July 16). Here, sporting a Darth Vader helmet, Dez breaks it down while the ladies take a break.


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