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Concert Review: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Atlanta, GA – September 22, 2006

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I wonder how many fans in attendance at Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers show at Hi-Fi Buys Amphitheatre in Atlanta remember the show began with “Listen to Her Heart.”  “Listen to Her Heart,” a good song and minor hit from You’re Gonna Get It, was followed by “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Won’t Back Down,” and “Free Fallin.'”  As Petty & Co. rolled through those next three songs I remember thinking to myself, half-joking, “Save some for later.” 

Petty and his Heartbreakers are celebrating the 30-year anniversary of their self-titled debut.  Despite rolling through three of the biggest hits of his career, there were plenty more great songs to fill out the set list.  In addition to this being the band’s 30-year anniversary tour, Petty is also promoting his new solo album, Highway Companion.  Fans wondering if this tour is more about 30 years or HC will be pleased or disappointed to know, depending on your perspective on the matter, only two songs from the new disc were performed (“Saving Grace” and “Square One”). 

The big surprise of the evening was the guest appearance of Stevie Nicks.  Nicks opened a few select dates on the first leg of the tour and has popped up sporadically since.  Tonight was one of those nights and she was on stage for a good portion of the show – there was a microphone with scarves already draped over it prior to the opening notes of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.”  She then took lead on Petty’s 1978 classic “I Need to Know.”  Before leaving the stage, she joined Petty in an emotional interpretation of “Insider.”  The pain in the lyrics was palpable as was the connection between these old friends and old pros, rarely breaking eye contact during the performance.  

Among the highlights of the evening was “Learning to Fly.”  The pop jangle of the studio version (from the excellent Jeff Lynne produced Into The Great Wide Open album) was stripped away, revealing a somber, meditative side of the song.  As Petty encouraged the crowd to sing the chorus as the rest of the band dropped out, he began singing improvised words about flying above his troubles and leaving them behind.  It is clear, even on the studio version, “Learning to Fly” is not about flying airplanes; it is about something bigger.  As he sang a capella while the crowd repeated the chorus, the metaphor became clearer.  For a few moments, it felt as if Petty himself was floating above the stage and the crowd.  Before bringing the song to a close, Benmont Tench was given a few bars to weave some beautiful piano magic into the tapestry of an amazing evening. It was all quite moving.

“Mary Jane’s Last Dance” was extended to allow Petty and lead guitarist Mike Campbell to trade solos.  Campbell, introduced as the “right-hand man,” provided all the evidence anyone would ever need for why Petty has not made a record without him in 30 years during the one-two punch of “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”  Keith Richards has talked about the difference between guitar virtuosos and the kind of guitarists who can work in bands.  Campbell will never make anyone’s list of “Greatest Rock Guitarists” but he excels at playing memorable leads in the context of Petty’s compact songs.  As I expected, “Saving Grace” comes alive onstage.

It is tough to pick highlights when there were no lowlights.  The other moment that jumps out was the performance of “Handle With Care.”  Scott Thurston, who has been a part of the band for a few years now, is no Roy Orbison but he does a mighty fine job of singing those high parts.  This is such a great song and it is great to hear it being performed.  Dear Powers That Be:  Get those Wilbury albums back in print.  Seriously! 

Set List

Listen to Her Heart (You’re Gonna Get It)
Mary Jane’s Last Dance (Greatest Hits)
Won’t Back Down (Full Moon Fever)
Free Fallin’ (Full Moon Fever)
Saving Grace (Highway Companion)
I’m a Man*
Oh Well*

Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around (feat. Stevie Nicks) (Through The Years: An Anthology)
I Need to Know (Stevie Nicks, lead vocals) (You’re Gonna Get It)
Handle With Care (Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1)
Square One (Highway Companion)
Insider (feat. Stevie Nicks) (Hard Promises)
Learning to Fly (feat. Stevie Nicks on BGV) (Into The Great Wide Open)
Don’t Come Around Here No More (feat. Stevie Nicks on BGV) (Southern Accents)
Refugee (Damn the Torpedoes)
Runnin’ Down a Dream (Full Moon Fever)

You Wreck Me (Wildflowers)
Mystic Eyes*
American Girl (feat. Stevie Nicks on BGV) (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers)

* – cover


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About Josh Hathaway

  • I had responded to your email before knowing your post was up. I didn’t realize that Stevie was on the tour. That’s awesome for everyone, but I still get to brag a little about getting to see Jeff Lynne join Petty for Handle.

    Back in the early ’90s on Petty’s solo tour at the LA Forum, Lynne and Springsteen came out for a couple of songs during the encore. They tried to get Dylan out, but he stayed backstage. I wish they would do an online search for other Wilbury family members.

    The set list was similar, but the order was slightly altered. Who opened? We had The Strokes.

    When I saw The Black Crowes a few weeks back, they also covered “Oh Well”. Is there a reson you don’t list who the covers are by because I’m pretty certain you know them?

  • We got 20 songs and no Square One. He must like us better. I am surprised with his catalog that they don’t mix it up more. They seem like a band who would.

    9/26/06 – Hollywood Bowl set:

    Listen to Her Heart
    Mary Jane’s Last Dance
    Won’t Back Down
    Free Falling
    Saving Grace
    I’m a Man
    Oh Well
    Handle With Care (w/Jeff Lynne)
    Stop Dragging My Heart Around (w/Stevie)
    I Need to Know (Stevie singing lead)
    Good to Be King
    Down South

    Insider (w/Stevie)
    Learning to Fly
    Don’t Come Around Here No More
    Running Down a Dream

    You Wreck Me
    Mystic Eyes
    American Girl

  • El B, I am certainly jealous of some of the differences in our shows. “It’s Good to Be King” is one of my favorite TP songs- I would have loved to have heard that one. The Jeff Lynne cameo is also a very nice touch.

    I really like “Square One” and “Down South.” I would have been happy either way. Just about anything he played from Highway Companion was going to be just fine with me. We might have gotten a 20th song but the band was a half hour late getting on stage due to tech issues with one of the screens. Still… nothing disappointing about the show.

    You mentioned in your e-mail about TP being almost forgotten or swallowed up. I agree. Saleski and I were talking about this. It is strange that a band in the R&R HoF and with that many great songs could go underappreciated but I think he has. He seems to fly under the radar a bit while still selling out concerts because of a fervent, devoted fan base. I took a few notes during the show for my review but not many- I was too busy being caught up in the magic onstage. It was a great evening.

    It sounds like your show was, too.

  • I don’t think Petty is underappreciated. He’s been around so long, he’s like Springsteen or Clapton – not even Madonna can be front and center in the public eye for their entire career.

    I remember seeing him in the early 80s – there were rumors that Stevie Nicks was going to appear but we waited and waited and she never did. (Or maybe we just missed her – she was a lot skinnier then.) It was still a great concert, of course.

    I wish I’d been at that Hollywood Bowl show to hear “You Wreck Me.” That’s probably my favorite of his “recent” songs. In fact that Wildflowers album didn’t leave my car for years.

  • Sounds like you had a good time, Deejz… S. Rod said you’re such a fanboy though. While I may agree, it does make me nod in appreciation to hear a replay of a positive live music experience.

    Thus, you inspired me to dig the TPATH Greatest Hits from the 5000 songs in my iTunes library just now. It’s funny of how listening to them makes me visualize all of the videos… Freefallin on escalators, Don’t Come Around with big tea cups, Mary Jane with dead chicks, etc.

    I will say: The riff from ‘Runnin Down A Dream’ is one of my all time favs… so much so that if I could make a composite song of the Runnin riff with the bass line from Morphine’s ‘Buena’, the song would be so bad ass that speakers everywhere would come alive and just abuse people.

    Nice review. Carry on.

  • Sahm, I think a juxtaposition of “Runnin'” and “Buena” would be stellar in unimaginable ways! S. Rod is right, I am such a fanboy. One day I will tell the tales of woe that bookended this particular journey as well as the funniest sign I have ever seen in my life.

    Jon, Wildflowers is my favorite Petty record ever.

  • Lisa

    What was the inspiration behind King for a Day. It reminds me of Hamlet.