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Tom Petty / May 31, 2008 / Auburn Hills, Mich. (The Palace)
Shortly after finishing "Mary Jane's Last Dance," Tom Petty told a stoked Saturday night crowd in suburban Detroit that "We're gonna have a good time tonight, I promise you." He did not lie.Shortly after finishing "Mary Jane's Last Dance," Tom Petty told a stoked Saturday night crowd in suburban Detroit that "We're gonna have a good time tonight, I promise you."
He did not lie.
The second show of Petty and his Heartbreakers' summer North American tour, with Steve Winwood opening, was the kind of display fans have come to expect during the past three-plus decades. It was an hour and 45 minutes of spirited and timeless rock, tightly -- and energetically -- rendered with the knowing care of veterans who are seasoned but not grizzled, and certainly not blase. There's was a well-studied ebb-and-flow to the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers' set, but it was complemented by a genuine exuberance and a sense of mild surprise that they're still able to play rock 'n' roll to a mostly full arena at this point of their lives.
It's noteworthy that Petty and company don't have anything to sell with this outing -- unless you count the Mudcrutch album by Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench's previous band, and the Heartbreakers aren't touching any of that material. The fact that the sextet is out this summer to play for the fun (and, of course, profit) of it liberated the show from certain expected standards of promotion.
Petty definitely knows how to please a crowd. Sporting a velvet jacket, with video screens above and behind the stage and video cubes hanging from the lighting rig, he brought the Heartbreakers out rocking with "You Wreck Me," "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and a pairing of the defiant anthems "I Won't Back Down" and "Even the Losers." The career-spanning 17-song set reached from 1977's "American Girl" to "Saving Grace" from Petty's 2006 solo album. In fact, eight selections came from his three sans-Heartbreakers releases.
The set featured plenty of favorites such as "The Waiting," "Learning to Fly," "Don't Come Around Here No More," "Refugee" and "Runnin' Down a Dream." But Petty and the Heartbreakers also reached for album tracks like "Honey Bee," "Face in the Crowd" and "Cabin Down Below," as well as some bona fide surprises -- the Traveling Wilburys' "End of the Line" and the overseas B-side "Sweet William," a trippy and expansive blues workout that's never appeared on a Petty or Heartbreakers album.
Even if the Heartbreakers played it a little early-tour safe, Campbell remained the band's instrumental star, lacing sharp and efficient solos into every song, while Tench's keyboard colorings were particularly effective on quieter numbers such as "Free Fallin' " and "Face in the Crowd." And Scott Thurston proved again he's the ultimate utility player on harmonica, guitar and primary backing vocals, including the high-end harmonies of "Runnin' Down a Dream" and some lead lines on "End of the Line."
Fellow Rock Hall member Winwood, meanwhile, got the evening off to a soaring start with his 65-minute set, which managed to troll through his four-plus decades in a truncated but effective fashion. The smartly paced nine-song performance carefully positioned selections from his latest album, "Nine Lives," amidst more familiar fare from his days in the Spencer Davis Group ("I'm a Man," "Gimme Some Lovin' "), Traffic ("Dear Mr. Fantasy"), Blind Faith "(Can't Find My Way Home") and a modified version of his chart-topping 1986 hit "Higher Love" that reflected the polyrhythmic groove of the "Nine Lives" material.
With his high-pitched but strong voice still sounding youthfully fit, Winwood spent most of the night on organ but also showed he's no slouch on guitar, especially when he played his own version of good pal Eric Clapton's solo on the new record's "Dirty City." And while he was unquestionably the show's support act, Winwood's presence and performance made sure it was a night of classic rock nirvana, pairing artists whose present feels as vital as their pasts.