Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers -- Concert Review

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Tom Petty turns 60 this month, and his Heartbreakers are about the same age. It's simply amazing how good these guys continue to be in concert.

Friday's sold-out show at the Hollywood Bowl was another triumph for one of rock's greatest bands -- a showcase of singular musicianship, sonic clarity, killer songs and the bond between performer and fan. There's really only one thing missing: surprises.

The lone knock on the band during its past several tours is the staid set list. Sure, a fan seeing the band for the first time wants and gets a plethora of greatest hits, but those who've been going since the LP era can go home a little frustrated.

There were several reasons for the veteran faithful to get excited about the current tour. For one, Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench were fresh from a reunion album and mini-tour as Mudcrutch, the precursor to the Heartbreakers. The disc had a more country-rock vibe, and the show included an epic, 15-minute take on "Crystal River" that showed how good the guys can be as a jam band.

There also were the past year's releases of "The Live Anthology," a four-disc concert memoir that features so many great old album tracks the band has mothballed for ages, and the home video release of "Classic Albums: Damn the Torpedoes," which chronicles the recording of the 1979 album that catapulted them into the rock 'n' roll stratosphere. This tour was a perfect chance to revisit that outstanding old material and get a few plugs in at the same time.

No such luck. "Refugee" was the only song in Friday's set from "Torpedoes," and when Petty announced that they were going to play "an album track," it turned out to be "Kings Highway," a top 5 mainstream rock single from 1991's "Into the Great Wide Open."

It sounded great, though.

Opener "Listen to Her Heart," a beat slow and even more Byrds-y, was followed by a dirty-sounding "You Don't Know How It Feels." And the band got its hard rock off with the (pre-Buckingham/Nicks) Fleetwood Mac cover "Oh Well," which would shred in anybody's live set but gave the underrated Campbell a chance to play more like Vivian Campbell as Petty shook his maracas. Killer.

After that rave-up, it's funny that it took a slow song, "Mary Jane's Last Dance," to get the folks in the upper levels out of their seats. Petty's always been able to work a crowd, and he got them to sing the "Learning to Fly" chorus gently and repeatedly as he laid down vocal fills over them. Petty's voice has held up remarkably well and sounded near-perfect all night.

The band played four songs in a row from this year's "Mojo," and all sounded even better than on the record. The post-"Mudcrutch" album, promised as a back-to-basics set, features longer songs with more stretched-out jams, the new ones found their rawer edges onstage and fit right in alongside the classics.

The "Mojo" barrage ended with lead single "I Should Have Known It," a Zeppelinesque cruncher built around the seething line, "It's the last time you're gonna hurt me." Expect it to be a concert staple going forward.

Petty's always been an industry trailblazer, but there's one trend he might consider following: The Heartbreakers are the perfect band for a tour where they play one of their many classic albums side-to-side. With their skills still in peak form, imagine how stirring it would be to hear something like "Louisiana Rain," "Southern Accents," "The Wild One, Forever" or "Straight Into Darkness" -- all of which are on the "Live Anthology."

Venue: Hollywood Bowl (Friday, Oct. 1).

Set list:
Listen to Her Heart
You Don't Know How It Feels
I Won't Back Down
Free Fallin'
Oh Well
Mary Jane's Last Dance
Kings Highway
Breakdown
Jefferson Jericho Blues
Good Enough
Running Man's Bible
I Should Have Known
Learning to Fly
Don't Come Around Here No More
Refugee
Encore:
Runnin' Down a Dream
American Girl
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