Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers concert review

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers with Steve Winwood

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The Heartbreakers are one incredibly tight and brilliant unit – and the man who gets to steer their ship every night just happens to have written some of the most recognizable tracks of the past 30 years. Live, the songs sound 17 times better than when delivered by local classic rock stations. Three guitarists, a bassist, one of the most brilliant keyboard players of recent memory, and an effortlessly flawless timekeeper equal an awe-inspiring band that just won’t disappoint. Mike Campbell plays solos with precision and passion. Yes, this must have been the billionth time he’s played “Refugee,” but his attack doesn’t feel stale or bored. Petty and his band unveil these classic tracks with reverence and enthusiasm. Petty’s grin, present throughout the entire show, is confirmation that he knows what a badass band he has.

Benmont Tench is brilliant. His beautiful keyboard playing was as present in the mix as Campbell’s guitar work, adding depth that made songs like “Face in the Crowd” and “Learning to Fly” soar through the cavernous United Center. The harmony vocals of guitarist/keyboardist/harmonica player, Scott Thurston, who looks like a Nicor Customer Service Representative more than a rock star, are the perfect foil for Petty’s Dylanesque (when you could understand Dylan’s vocals) delivery. Thurston even got a tiny bit of lead time during the rousing version of the Traveling Wilbury’s “End of the Line.”

This was a joyous two-hour Sunday drive through most of the hits and a couple of surprises. The set opened with “You Wreck Me” and concluded with a rousing version of “American Girl.” In between, tracks like “Queen Bee” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” were amped up and blasted, accenting the ‘heavy’ in ‘heavy blues’ and ‘heavy psychedelica.’

Steve Winwood’s opening hourlong set focused heavily on his new disc, Nine Lives, and had a world music vibe. His band featured a percussionist, drummer, guitarist, and a sax/flute player who also doubled on keys when Winwood went to guitar. There was no bassist on the stage. He did deliver a rousing version of Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” including an impassioned guitar solo, but “Higher Love” really needed Chaka Kahn’s backing vocals as he changed the arrangement to accent a more world flavor.

Petty later brought Winwood back for spirited versions of “Gimme Some Lovin’” and “I Can’t Find My Way Home.” Petty and his band looked as if they were having a gas romping through these two classics while backing up another legend. I would have preferred to see Winwood get a full set, because that would have allowed him more room to explore his fabulous catalogue, but overall, this is a tremendous show with real live professional musicianship. Catch it while you can.

Set List

You Wreck Me
Listen to Her Heart
I Won't Back Down
Even the Losers
Free Fallin'
Mary Jane's Last Dance
Sweet William
End of the Line
Can't Find My Way Home (with Steve Winwood)
Gimme Some Lovin' (with Steve Winwood)
Saving Grace
Honey Bee
A Face in the Crowd
You Don't Know How it Feels
Learning to Fly
Don't Come Around Here No More
Refugee

Encore

Runnin' Down a Dream
Gloria
American Girl


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