Mojo rising: Tom Petty.
Petty and the Heartbreakers, Crosby Stills and Nash
Performing Arts Center, Aug. 27
Watching Runnin’ Down a Dream, filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich’s
2007 documentary about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, you
get the impression that the highly talented Petty is also
a very lucky guy. His rise from Elvis-obsessed boy in Gainesville,
Fla., to rock & roll superstar involved quite a few fortuitous
events. Foremost was his good fortune early on to meet two
prodigious musicians, pianist Benmont Tench and guitarist
Of course Petty’s career hasn’t been without its ill-fated
setbacks, including the 1987 fire that destroyed his ranch
and the overdose death of Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein.
But as fortunate overall as Petty was to hook up with Tench
and Campbell, who became the musical foundation of the Heartbreakers,
they were even luckier to hitch their stars to Petty.
Over his 35-year career, the guy has been a hit machine. During
his live show, Petty rarely seems to disappoint, in part because
the list of well-loved songs he has to work with is so long.
And no matter what record he’s out selling—on the current
tour it’s his latest release Mojo—the new stuff is
sandwiched between barrages of hits.
Petty’s SPAC show on Friday was no exception, starting with
an opening volley of Billboard-charting tracks spanning three
decades: “Listen to Her Heart,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels,”
“I Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin.’” Petty has a knack
for writing songs that pack a world of feeling into deceptively
simply lyrics. I haven’t heard “Listen to Her Heart” in the
same way since the Onion’s A.V. Club published an inventory
of classic Tom Petty opening lyrics, crediting the tune for
the way it captures a decadent world with its first line:
“You think you’re going to take her away/With your money and
With four hits out of the way, Petty and the Heartbreakers
then took a bluesy detour through “Oh Well,” a cover of Fleetwood
Mac from their earlier incarnation as a Peter Green-led blues
rock band. Dressed in jeans and a red silk shirt, his blond
hair in its usual youthful shag but offset by a weathered-looking
beard, Petty had fun with this one, running around the stage
shaking maracas in his hands as Campbell wailed out on a smoking
feeling like a little rock & roll music. Let’s get down
to some old rock & roll,” Petty announced before showcasing
four songs from the blues-rock revisiting Mojo (“Jefferson
Jericho Blues,” “Good Enough,” “Running Man’s Bible,” “I Should
Have Known It”). Petty played “Learning to Fly” on acoustic
guitar before returning to rock with a finale of “Don’t Come
Around Here No More” and “Refugee.” There was an encore of
“American Girl,” Petty’s signature closing tune, and the show
was over too soon, it seemed.
Many fans, stymied by traffic jams outside the venue and ticket
lines within, were still streaming into the amphitheater as
Crosby, Stills and Nash played their opening set, filled with
hits from the ‘60s iconoclasts. Graham Nash’s world-changing
“Chicago” was a highlight, as was “Almost Cut My Hair,” sung
David Crosby, now gray but still rocking some long locks.
Still, it’s getting cliché to say it, but without Neil Young
there’s just no edge there.