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Concert Review: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Nashville, TN – August 12, 2010

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One of the first rules of show business is always leave the audience wanting more.  Some bands have found that easy enough to do, never quite living up to expectations or by, well, flat out sucking.  For more than 30 years, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers have perfected the art of leaving their audience wanting more while still sending them home smiling.

As much as I love live music, there are a lot of obstacles that stand between me and a show on any given night.  It takes a lot to get me to deal with Ticketmaster, travel, parking, crowds, and dealing with the time and money constraints.  There aren’t many bands I’ve paid to see more than once despite my musical obsession.  I saw Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers for the third time last Thursday night in Nashville and they delivered a performance so strong I can guaran-damn-tee I’ll see them a fourth.

Time stood still as the band performed a 90-minute set that blended hits, songs from new album Mojo, and a pair of covers.  It’s a trick of pacing they’ve learned from years together.  From the opening strains of “Listen To Her Heart” to the rousing finale “American Girl,” The Heartbreakers delivered the goods.  Everything about the evening was executed at a nearly flawless level from the lighting, song selection, sequencing, and performance.  Petty was in strong voice and lead guitarist Mike Campbell demonstrated once again he is one of the great lead players that never makes the list of “Greatest Guitarists Of All Time.” 

In addition to a hits-heavy set, Petty dusted off one deep album cut that has long been a fan favorite.  “King’s Highway” has been played regularly this tour but has been one of the few songs occasionally rotated out of a set list that largely remains static over the course of a tour.  I crossed my fingers that I’d get it in Nashville and tried not to get my hopes up but I was holding my breath through those early songs until he gave a brief introduction to it at which point my excitement erupted into a boisterous cheer.  

On record (it’s from the 1992 album Into The Great Wide Open), it sounds as expansive as its name suggests.  On stage, the prettiness of Jeff Lynne’s production is traded for more of a driving rock sound.  Either way this remains one of the great gems of Petty’s catalog and the lesson here to he and the band is to keep delving because there are more where this came from.

The four-song Mojo suite seemed well received by a large segment of the fans but was clearly not as well known as the rest of the set.  The album was recorded mostly live in the studio with the band all playing in one room and that helped these songs feel right at home on stage as well.  “Jefferson Jericho Blues” didn’t work as well live as it should have but Petty and Campbell were able to lock their lead guitar lines in tight unison, keeping things interesting.  “Good Enough” is the best song on Mojo and it was spectacular live.  Just as on record, Mike Campbell plays soaring, searing leads that burned with beautiful intensity. 

The main set ended by sandwiching “Don’t Come Around Here No More” between a beautiful acoustic reading of “Learning to Fly” and a stomping “Refugee.”  “Don’t Come Around Here No More” is over 25 years old and is known as much for its famous Alice in Wonderland-inspired video as for the song itself. But when The Heartbreakers lock into this one live, it hits harder than anything in their catalog.  It’s always been a great song and a favorite song but it still surprises with the vitality and energy it emits.  Where Campbell dominated “Good Enough” with tasteful, soaring phrases of extended notes, he unleashes a torrent of fury on “Don’t Come Around Here No More” which is accentuated by the strobe lighting. 

The real trick of a Heartbreaker show is that when they leave stage to end the main set, you have trouble remembering what they haven’t played and can’t imagine what they’ll come back with for an encore.  The depth of their catalog assures fans there is still something left, and indeed there was.  They opened with “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” a song which Campbell usually owns and he was effective on this night but somehow it just didn’t have the same power of “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and “Good Enough.”  “Carol,” the Chuck Berry classic, was an opportunity for the great Benmont Tench to play some great piano runs.  “American Girl” belonged to Petty and the audience.  It’s hard to believe that in a career that has generated so many hits, it was a song from the debut that is the ultimate showstopper and ultimate show closer.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Set List

  1. Listen To Her Heart
  2. You Don’t Know How It Feels
  3. I Won’t Back Down
  4. Free Fallin’
  5. Oh Well
  6. Mary Jane’s Last Dance
  7. King’s Highway
  8. Breakdown
     – Band Intro -
  9. Jefferson Jericho Blues
  10. Good Enough
  11. Runnin’ Mans Bible
  12. I Should Have Known It
  13. Learning To Fly
  14. Don’t Come Around Here No More
  15. Refugee
    Encore 
  16. Runnin’ Down A Dream
  17. Carol
  18. American Girl
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About Josh Hathaway

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    sounds good. but why didn’t openers CSN join in for a song together?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/josh-hathaway Josh Hathaway

    Not sure. I wouldn’t have been surprised and was almost expecting it but they never came back out. They were very solid but didn’t have the same heat in their set as The Heartbreakers did. It was a great show.

  • 11

    Great show, great review.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/josh-hathaway Josh Hathaway

    Thanks, 11. I’m far too modest to comment on the second part of that but yes, it was a great show.

  • Dr. Jimmy

    90 minutes is an insult in light of the prices charged for tickets.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/josh-hathaway Josh Hathaway

    I wasn’t the least bit insulted nor was my traveling companion and I think I can speak for quite a number of fans in attendance. I’ve sat through shows and movies that were a lot longer and cost a lot less and felt a whole lot less satisfied. Would I have enjoyed a longer show? Probably. I love The Heartbreakers. Do I feel shortchanged by the show they gave me? Not even a little.

  • 11

    Dr. Jimmy, I know an 18 or 19 song setlist and a 90 minute show time look bad on paper, but trust me, it was worth it.

    The $145 ticket price is too high if the show had been three hours long, but that’s just the world we are living in.

  • Dr. Jimmy

    If you enjoyed it, that’s great. This will be the first Petty tour I won’t see since 1981. I don’t understand why he doesn’t take a note from other bands with extensive catalogs, like Rush, and ditch the opening act, play two sets and dig out some of those songs people want to hear.

    I’m not against paying money to see a show, I saw Billy Joel/Elton John years ago for a hefty chunk of change and don’t regret it. They played more than three hours of non-stop hits. 90 minutes for someone with a catalog like Petty’s is silly. Nothing from Hard Promises or Long After Dark? And when the hell is he going to drop “I Won’t Back Down”?

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    I know an 18 or 19 song setlist and a 90 minute show time look bad on paper, but trust me, it was worth it.

    what? you can’t judge a show by looking at the setlist? shocking.

  • Bob

    Being an older guy
    and an old hippie type that has seen
    MORE than my share of rock shows
    I am reminded of a line from an old Stones song,,, “if I suicided right on the stage would it be enough” ticket prices are rediculous, but what the hay,,,,
    an evening out with the mrs, is spendie no matter what you do

  • 11

    Dr. Jimmy, remember that I am a CASUAL Petty fan. For $145, he damn-well better give me ‘I Won’t Back Down,’ because it is one of his best and most famous songs. If I had seen every tour since whenever — like you — I might be tired of that one too, but I haven’t, and I am not.

    Which brings me to … MARK. Sorry friend, I am not playing. I’ll bitch about Bruce’s setlists in 2012 when the E-Street Band goes out for even more definitvie renditions of Out In The Street, Bobby Jean, and that immortal No. 1 smash, Waiting On A Sunny Day.

    Until then, U2 is playing Unforgettable Fire on this tour, so God is in His heaven.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/josh-hathaway Josh Hathaway

    I can tell a lot from a set list and this one is a great one.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    S145 a ticket? Did Petty pick you up on the way to a venue? I have seen Petty up close and I can attest you don’t need to see Petty up close

  • http://soundlust.com Joanie

    Yikes. $145. I didn’t even pay that to see B.B. King. (Okay, so I didn’t pay anything at all to see him, but again…that’s just too pricey for me.)

    Petty leads the way with album price limits, so it would seem that he’d try to do something about ticket prices, too.

    Thank God I go to more blues events than anything else. At least I can afford those.

    BTW, good review and yeah, I’d have killed to be there.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/josh-hathaway Josh Hathaway

    This is by far the most I’ve paid to see Petty. I have heard him and read him in interviews and I think he tried for a long while to keep the ticket prices down as well but the industry pretty much swallowed that up whole. I don’t think he’s a hapless victim — he is getting paid — but I truly believe left up to him that show wouldn’t have cost that.

    Hight ticket prices piss me off but what really pisses me off is when — regardless what I paid — I don’t get my money’s worth. I did at this show even though it cost too damn much. It was a fantastic gig.