Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers / June 20, 2006 / New York (Madison Square Garden)
All the usual suspects were dished out, from the massive crowd sing-a-longs "Free Fallin'" and "Learning To Fly" to early AOR smashes like "Refugee" and show opener "Listen to Her Heart," not to mentiThis year marks the 30th anniversary of the emergence of Gainesville, Fla.'s favorite son Tom Petty and his longtime band the Heartbreakers onto the world stage. And 2006 looks to be the group's definitive watermark on the first decade of the 21st century with the long-awaited release of Petty's third solo album, "Highway Companion," a recent headlining spot at the Bonnaroo festival and a grandiose summer tour that's rumored to the final major arena run of his career.
Only a couple of days shy of Bonnaroo, Petty and Co. returned to Madison Square Garden for the first time in three years. And though it was a bit of a bummer that they brought wayward Phish phrontman Trey Anastasio to the Mecca as his opening act as opposed to Pearl Jam or the Allman Brothers Band, who will be joining him later in the tour, Petty's Garden party did in fact feature an extensive guest turn by "little sister" Stevie Nicks. Not to mention the phenomenal hit-heavy set the Heartbreakers dished out, covered and smothered with old faves, new potentials and more than a couple of curveballs to keep things from getting too repetitive.
Hardcore Petty folk may've balked at the omission of such HB standards as "You Got Lucky" and "Jammin' Me," as well as any material from what many consider to be the band's two best LPs, 1996's outstanding soundtrack to Ed Burns' "She's the One" and its 1999 Rick Rubin-produced follow-up, "Echo." But that's not to say Petty and the boys failed to deliver a wonderfully kinetic set loaded with portions of the TP catalog tailor-made to be exploded on stage.
All the usual suspects were dished out, from the massive crowd sing-a-longs "Free Fallin'" and "Learning To Fly" to early AOR smashes like "Refugee" and show opener "Listen to Her Heart," not to mention the seminal weed anthem "Last Dance With Mary Jane."
And this being a tour in support of a solo Petty album, the band was gratuitous in the amount of material they doled out from Tom's two superior artist albums, 1989's "Full Moon Fever" and 1994's "Wildflowers," ripping into "Running Down a Dream" and "You Wreck Me," as well as Petty's other toke ode "You Don't Know How It Feels."
They even broke out the Traveling Wilburys' all-timer "Handle With Care," with multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston filling in for the late Roy Orbison, But what made this MSG gig so newsworthy was the guest appearance from Nicks, who not only turned up to sing her 1981 duet with Petty, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," but stuck around to sing the lead on "I Need To Know" and backing vocals on "Don't Come Around Here No More" and "American Girl." For the occasion, Petty dusted off his obscure "Hard Promises" cut "Insider," which he wrote with Stevie in mind to sing.
Guitarist Mike Campbell, sporting a beard and what looked like white man's dreads, riffed better than most cats half his age, particularly during spirited covers of the Yardbirds-popularized "I'm a Man" and the early Fleetwood Mac nugget "Oh Well."
Even the new tunes from "Highway Companion" sound promising, especially the pretty "Square One," which came off like a proper follow-up to the unrequited beauty of the songs Petty was writing in the late '90s. If this was Tom Petty's last stand at Madison Square Garden, it makes one hope these retirement claims are as indelible as Jay-Z's.