Review and photos by Andy ArgyrakisDo we really need Tom Petty to tell us that the music industry is full of blood sucking corporate tycoons more concerned with manipulating pretty faces and drumming up marketing gimmicks then they are with good old rock and roll? Will his analysis of narrow minded, money hungry, and corrupt radio station program directors help open doors for more than just the top 40 charters to make it on the air waves? In both cases, the answer is "no" and the fact that Petty and the Heartbreakers have become a lightweight, stripped down shadow of their rollicking past only makes such statements sound down right whiny no matter how justifiable they are.
As Petty and his classic Heartbreakers' lineup featured new cuts from the record, starting with the title cut and intermingling "Have Love, Will Travel," "Lost Children," and "When a Kid Goes Bad" throughout the evening, their intentions may have been noble, but their musical vessels were inferior to previous endeavors. That was evident time and time again through the groups' two and a half hour assault, which besides that handful of forgettable new cuts, ran rampant with the endearing hits that have afforded Petty a bustling career since the '70s. Whether laying out the guts and grit of "Love is a Long Road," churning out the glowing acoustics of "Free Fallin,'" or unfurling a declaratory version of "I Won't Back Down," Petty never sounded better, nor was the typically abrasive United Center sound system a hindrance.
Fans down front chanted for "The Waiting" and they got it with complete with youthful exuberance and a message from Petty that "it's never too late to start following your dreams." Call outs for "Yer So Bad" were also abundant, and Petty soon obliged, punctuating the "Full Moon Fever" album alum with a snide croon and a more jangly roots rock personality than the original. That song, along with a slowed down yet jazzed up "King's Highway" and the glistening hopefulness of "Learning to Fly" were nicely summarized during a midpoint acoustic set, giving fans standing on their feet a much needed chance to sit down.
However, the runaway delight of the set came when Petty paid tribute to his friend and former collaborator George Harrison, dusting off the long out of print gem "Handle With Care" from the Traveling Wilburys' first volume. Such a tender recollection of the late great Beatle was certainly emotional, but by the end of the Heartbreakers' rendition, the crowd's sorrow turned to celebration. And that enthusiastic vibe continued to resonate throughout the arena as the band stepped into a full offensive stride for the evening. They offered up a torpedo damning take on "Refugee," a full out harmonica driven jam session on "Mary Jane's Last Dance," and went balls to the walls for "Runnin' Down a Dream." And just went you thought the guys had given all they could have during the marathon set, Petty and the Heartbreakers returned for "You Wreck Me," a brief improv salute to Chuck Berry, and the truly triumphant finale "American Girl." The band blazed through their bona-fide first hit with as much aggression and intensity as they did over 20 years ago, unabashedly confirming that despite their cutting of corners on "The Last DJ," they still know how to rock.
Too bad the same can't be said about opener Jackson Browne, who despite having a lengthy list of hits only dusted off a pair of prominence during his hour-long set. Opening with the minor single "Boulevard," the minor hit from Hold Out and following up with "Casino Nation," "Never Stop," and "The Night Inside Me" (from the new The Naked Ride Home) Browne's stage time was a continuous blur of modern day adult contemporary mediocrity. What made matters even worse was Browne's refusal to include many of his signature songs, from "Somebody's Baby" to "Tender is the Night" to "The Load Out," only hinting at his glory days with hurried versions of "Doctor My Eyes" and "Running on Empty." Judging by Browne's on stage energy level and set list selection, it's safe to say his fuel level was pretty low that night, if not entirely empty.
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