Oldies But Goldies: Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers At Beacon Theater, Thursday, May 23rd, 2013, Reviewed
(I woke up this morning and went in such of my green tour shirt from this gig and couldn’t find it -I bet it is there somewhere, and it got me in a Petty mood which is somewhat rare for me… Here is the best concert I ever seen him perform reposted -IL)
The Heartbreakers residency at the Beacon Theater? Must be an Allman Brother’s like May Madness, right? The Southerners spreading their wings with extended jams, switched up sets every night, deep album tracks, cover songs. Petty sells himself as a Southerner but he is really a Floridian, Gainsville is a college town, and Petty is a child of the British invasion and simultaneous folk rock explosion. The Southern groove band tag came a couple of albums in and while people of good faith may disagree, I preferred the new wave rocker for the most part -with the wrong songs Petty could bore you silly. So if Petty’s concept for this tour was to perform a my back pages which would allow him to highlight his superb backing band, Petty could’ve ended up face down in the ground performing slack rockers. It might have been an act of extended somnambulism.
It was good. Very good. Great. It wasn’t the covers that pulled Petty on a whole other level, but it felt as though it was. A roaring blasting “Mystic Eye” pulled out of 1965 with more power than flair, it was anchored by Scott Thurston’s heart pounding harp. If you go back to the original, the harp is the point of the bluesy insanity, but Petty’s own harp on the nine minute workout from the Live Anthology doesn’t quite pull it off. Moving it like Jagger on Thursday night, Petty unencumbered by his ubiquitous guitar, danced across the stage banging a tambourine and then arms outstretched. “Tweeter And The Monkey Man”, Petty has been playing all tour and the same with set opener “So You Wanna Be A Rock N Roll Star” but “Willin'”? Who can write enough about Lowell George? How great to hear a Little Feat song. George died at 34 years old from heart failure, but when it comes to Southern boogie the man was among the best ever and Petty and the Heartbreakers do him proud. The man sitting beside me was of a certain age and sedately enjoying the set but Lowell got him off his butt.
So there is that and there is lead guitarist Mike Campbell. On what is the definition of Petty’s concept for this tour (and this night), they play “Have Love, Will Travel” off The Last DJ -a pretty good but not exactly memorable album, Campbell breaths life into the track with a devastating solo right in its heart. A smooth, hard riff powers the band forward and it is set highlight. Just as good is Mike’s finger picked solo on “Tweeter”.
And anyway, Petty isn’t married to the obscurities all new songs concept though it helps him bring a freshness to the hits. The first two songs of the night haven’t changed all tour and the last song has remained constant (“This is where it all began”, I’ll leave you to figure out which song) And another three songs are plotted along the line. That leaves a mammoth 14 songs for him to add or subtract to taste. And that means that three songs in he performs “Don’t Do Me Like That” for the first time in decades.
Thrilled to hear the masterpiece doesn’t begin to describe my feeling and Petty does it nice and sincere. The song seems slight lyrically but it is a perfect example of a song written to be sung. The second verse trips over your lips: “Listen baby can’t you see, Baby you’d bury me, if you were in the public eye…” it’s the “public” that makes it a joy to singalong to. It is written in highlights of sound, the iteration of the “buh” is such fun to to swing yourself into. This is anthem lyricism. Petty isn’t warning the girl, he is begging her, and when you sing it you keep landing right where he wants you to. Right where he has placed it for you: the song is a gift to non singers and Petty… to see him play it live after years of just worshiping the song. What a blast!
Petty skimps on the other hits but “Refugee” was righteous and I didn’t walk out making a mental list of what I didn’t hear that I loved -and I didn’t hear most. He managed to make me forget through a lively, inviting performance. The (relatively) intimate surroundings and great acoustics worked for him. And on what should have been the mid show lull, “Walls” and “Angel Dream 2” had a revelation of a “Rebels” on side and “Willin'” on the other. The band are Florida rockers and while there are extended solo there is no 26 minute songs (the way Neil Young performed at MSG last year). They aren’t concise but they aren’t indulgent. They make the point for older songs, they are performed very well with drummer Steve Feronne working extremely diligently to maintain the pace without looping off.
The set itself was well constructed. Around the half way mark Petty follows “Tweeter” with an obscure Zombies cover -the Zombies are playing a free gig at Summerstage on June 15th and the Brit Invasion blues band (you know em from “She’s Not There”) fit in so well next to the Dylan song from Petty’s Willburys days. The two blues songs are both great and make a real tandem. There is a couple of acoustic songs round the two thirds mark and then the band pulls out with the loudest song of the evening “Mystic Eyes”. These things don’t happen by accident, believe me!
Petty both sounded and looked terrific, just terrific. At 62 years of age, he was handsome, fit, his voice so tender and with so much power. Gorgeous voice and he appears to have lost none of it. From the softer songs to the full throated “Refugee” he was well on top of his game. I saw him six years ago at the Prudential and he was half asleep, I walked out in the middle. And indeed I had written a post about how I wasn’t going to waste my time with the residency. He’d screwed me over once too often and, essentially because I wanted rock nyc to have a review, changed my mind.
Holy hell -Petty did us like that.