JAM Magazine Concert Reviews

April 19, 2012
1st BANK Center
Broomfield, CO USA
Review by David Huff
Photos by Mark Osler

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

It's those unexpected surprises in life that make waking up each morning an adventure. When my brother called me out of the blue and invited me to Denver to see the second night of Tom Petty & the Heartbreaker's performance in the Mile High City, I thought why not. I already had a photographer shooting the show, might as well have a review to go with it.

I first interviewed Tom Petty back in 1979 for the second issue of Jam Magazine. Over the many years that followed, it was interesting to follow Petty's career for one reason, and one reason only. Whenever there was any whiff of a controversy surrounding an upcoming album - whether it was personal or business for Tom - you could take it to the bank the record was going to be a hit. If the recording was released with little or no fanfare attached to it, it more or less tanked. The apex of this Florida native's career, ironically, wasn't the work he did with the Heartbreakers. It was a side project ostensibly dubbed a solo album that also featured members of his band. The 1989 recording, Full Moon Fever, would turn Tom Petty into a superstar. And yes, it reluctantly dragged the rest of the band into the spotlight as well.

As my brother and I were discussing Petty's career before the show, it slowly dawned on me just how powerful and enduring this band's body of work actually had become. The incredible 18-year run he had writing hit songs from 1976 to 1994 proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Petty and his Heartbreakers were a tour de force to be reckoned with. Though his newer music this past decade hasn't been as well-received as past endeavors, he still performs to sold-out arena size crowds around the world. And let's face it. You just don't jump on a plane for anybody, not in this Obama economy.

Before I give further deliberations on Tom Terrific, I want to give him kudos for giving artist Regina Spektor a huge platform in which to display her enormous talents. I had no idea what to expect from this artist when she strolled out on stage. At the end of her set, I was a fan. This artist knows how to compose truly compelling music to make her lyrics sparkle and shine. In today's wired world, where listener's have an attention span of a gnat, that's saying something since entire records don't have the impact they once had. Spektor's set, which included tunes from her upcoming album, was well-received by this audience. Her song, "All the Rowboats", was the highlight for me. I still can't get the tune out of my head, especially the haunting piano part this classically trained musician created. Regina's fourth album on Sire Records will be released Memorial Day weekend. I highly recommend you check this singer / songwriter out.

And now for Mr. Petty! As I was watching him perform on stage, I couldn't help but think he hadn't aged a bit over the years. Despite the beard, I swear time had stood still for this artist. If there's a Dorian Gray of rock and roll, this guy is it. Tonight, his voice was soulful, full of life and subtly powerful. He pranced around the stage throughout, and often traded guitar licks with his long-time cohort and friend, Mike Campbell. The Heartbreakers were as tight as ever and sounded great. Even when Campbell broke a guitar string in the second song, "You Wreck Me", the band carried on like nothing had happened. Petty was also very engaging with the audience. He traded stories, anecdotes and even half-heartedly joked about the stolen guitars that were retrieved earlier in the week. This show was full of highs and very few lows.

The stage design, which resembled an intimate theatre setting complete with a backdrop of thick curtains, was excellent. The imagery was a perfect setting for the entire group to jam in front of. The scene was warm, inviting and literally begged the audience to sing-a-long whenever they heard one of Petty's many hit songs. This concert was definitely one of those 'memory lane' adventures. Listening to this band rattle off one classic song after another, it proved to one and all that when music is done right, it takes the listener places no other type of artistic medium can. After the Heartbreakers had finished the fourth song, "Here Comes My Girl," the time machine switch had been flipped on for everyone in the building. That included many in the crowd that probably weren't even born when that song was recorded in 1978.

The group jumped around there rich catalogue, including music from all their studio recordings except three - 1982's Long After Dark, 1987's Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) and 1999's Echo. The set also included six songs from Petty's two solo efforts, the aforementioned Full Moon Fever and 1994's Wildflowers. There was also some bathroom break songs included in the 20-song offering disguised as 'deep cuts.' One of them was "Spike" off the 1985 album, Southern Accents. Though there was a smattering of cheers that went up when the band started playing the tune, most those in attendance could have cared less. Personally, the Travelling Wilbury song "Handle With Care" and the cover of J.J. Cale's "Travelin' Light" was about the only 'off the beaten path' songs I wanted to hear. If there was one real complaint I had about this show, it was the exclusion of several Petty-penned gems that were left out.

If you are expecting to hear "Breakdown", "Don't Do Me Like That", "You Got Lucky" or "Into the Great Wide Open" on this tour, I suspect you're going to be sorely disappointed. This particular evening, those songs were omitted in favor of two tunes from 2010's Mojo, "I Should Have Known It" and "Good Enough", as well as "Have Love Will Travel" from the 2002's The Last DJ. Also, instead of playing "The Waiting" off the '81 album, Hard Promises, the crowd was treated to "Something Big." Basically, the first six songs of the show pulled you in, the next ten were hit and miss. The final four songs, including the two encores, "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and "American Girl", were the real show stoppers.

As my brother and were leaving the arena, all I could think about was, "Wow, this is the fourth decade in which I've seen a Tom Petty concert." As I looked back on the musical odyssey I was just on, it dawned on me that Tom and I have both aged gracefully in our chosen profession. We both still had our shoulder length hair and a 'joie de vivre' aura about us. In the end, about the only thing I could say was 'damn the torpedoes,' it's 'into the great wide open'.

Set List:
Listen to Her Heart
You Wreck Me
I Won't Back Down
Here Comes My Girl
Handle With Care (Travelling Wilburys)
The Best Of Everything
Something Big
Have Love Will Travel
Free Fallin'
Travelin' Light (J.J. Cale cover)
Time To Move On
Learning to Fly
Yer So Bad
I Should Have Known It
Good Enough
Runnin' Down a Dream
Mary Jane's Last Dance
American Girl