|There are many cliches to describe Tom Petty, and thousands have been used in reviews spanning his two-decade career. But to be straightforward, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers rank among the tightest, least flashy and best musical live acts touring year after year.
With his easy demeanor and festive attitude toward his music, Petty is able to relax the crowd and just let them sit back and enjoy the two-hour set of song after song. Although the band is tight, there is no special attention being paid to being tight. It is just years of touring and playing that allow them the freedom to play in sync without trying.
Flashbacks always appear back to the Saturday Night Live skit where David Spade, playing Tom Petty, was doing the interpretation for Bob Dylan. Petty is like Dylan in so many ways. But still very different. Neither have a singing voice of angels. Neither have the typical good looks of a rock star. And neither are flashy musicians. But both use their music and lyrics to make up for any idiosyncrasies they have. And both have overcome those “non-traditional” formulas to become rock stars without the rock star image.
So when Petty played an indoor arena show, there was no surprise that thousands of seats were filled. Not to see a great rock show, but they were there to hear a great concert. And Petty delivered like an early-morning UPS driver. Petty and the Heartbreakers are able to provide an atmosphere of comfort and conformity by not being conformists. Those there were avid fans that know Petty’s music forwards and backwards and know what to expect from Tom Petty. So, night in and night out, Petty has to play in front of musically intelligent fans and be able to pull off what many bands don’t have to. Because music is the center-point of the show, Petty cannot rely on theatrics and diversions that allow the band or himself any leeway from perfection. For those fans in Columbus this night, there was no doubt no diversions were needed.
Whether he was playing his top hits or his tribute to his friend George Harrison, The Beatles “I Need You,” Petty and The Heartbreakers were on target and in focus. It is often said that no band should ever try to cover a Beatles song. Just the mere effort isn’t worth the time because no other band could ever do it justice. Well, those critics have obviously never heard Petty. This rendition of “I Need You” was not only spectacularly played, but also emotionally charged. This was the perfect song for Petty to honor the great George Harrison with, and although you could feel the emotion soaking off Petty, it did not take away from his performance. It only enhanced it, making the rest of the night stronger and building an even bigger emotional bond between audience and artist.
A while ago, I said Superjoint Ritual was the best show to come through Columbus in 2002, well, maybe I spoke too soon. I admit that before this show, I was not a big Petty fan. Though I liked listening to him, I never spent time hearing him. Petty is a true artist who can make it in the popular music world. That is a rarity which helps the rest of us keep our feet planted firmly on the planet and allows us to expect something just a bit more from our popular musicians.