HOLMDEL, NJ—If you get a chance to see Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, take it. You may find that you won’t be sure who has more fun: you or the band.
After playing together for 44 years, Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell don’t interact with each other as much as they used to, but they do so more than ever with the crowd, and like all the other Heartbreakers, display a sense of playful professionalism that’s hard to find these days, outside of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. Campbell’s sense of timing is so astute, he doesn’t even have to watch Petty command the end to each song.
With a strong 13th studio album to promote, TPHB only played three tunes off Hypnotic Eye: the upbeat-sounding, yet lyrically mournful “Forgotten Man,” the satiric “American Dream Plan B,” and the catchy single “U Get Me High,” which, like the evening’s opening number, “Last Dance With Mary Jane,” inspired a waft of pot smoke, cascading into thunderous applause.
The rest of the two-hour set was a fan fest featuring classics, such as “American Girl” from the band’s 1976 self-titled debut, plus the signature, which, along with the signature “Refugee,” evoked “Nuggets”-like bashes of feedback screaming from the typically jangly guitars of Campbell and Petty. A heartfelt cover of Elvis Presley’s Sun classic take on Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” also stood out.
An equal mix of Byrds-like power pop, distorted, psychedelic garage rock, and rootsy Americana, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers are timeless, like The Rolling Stones, yet even more vital with enjoyable new material sure to gain prominence within the setlist.
It’s not every day that an audience is treated to two Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame acts on the same bill, but Steve Winwood obliged as the opener. Backed by a Traffic-like ensemble that would sound great sharing the stage with Santana, Winwood mostly played Traffic tunes with the passion of his early years as a teenage prodigy. But he also combed his rich solo and Blind Faith repertoire, bringing down the house with a closing sing-along to the Spencer Davis Group staple “Gimme Some Lovin’.”
Bob Makin is a longtime contributor to and former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly and a reporter/editor for two New Jersey newspapers and their website.