By Roy Trakin
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Steve Winwood – The Forum, Los Angeles (October 11, 2014)
Playing a crisply effective arena-rock show has become a dying art in this age of ADD and multimedia distractions, but TP and company offer a state-of-the-art concert that eschews any gimmicks except for the video screens at either end of the stage, which allow you to leave your binoculars at home.
Coming off last year’s successful small-scale club gigs at the Fonda last year which emphasized deep cuts, this was a more conventional set list dotted with greatest hits, interspersed with songs from his latest, fine album, Hypnotic Eye, which, to their credit, blended in seamlessly. Like Springsteen, Petty worships at the secular church of rock and its totems – The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan – raising the art of the garage band to its chiming Aristotelian paradigm.
Opening act Steve Winwood warmed the crowd up with a virtually chronological classic, nine-song set that incorporated his rich rock heritage, from the Spencer Davis Group (“I’m a Man,” “Gimme Some Lovin’”), Traffic (“Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,” “Dear Mr. Fantasy”),Blind Faith (Can’t Find My Way Back Home,” “Had to Cry Today”) to his successful solo career (“Higher Love”), spotlighting his own underrated brilliance as both guitarist and keyboard player, the only concession to time a pair of incongruous gray muttonchops.
As if to underline Winwood’s set, the Heartbreakers hit the stage running with their usual opener, the Byrds’ how-to manual, “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star,” seguing neatly into their ode to marijuana, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” nicely spiced by jack-of-all-trades (and one-time Stooges member), Scott Thurston on harp.
The first of four songs from the new album, “American Dream Plan B,” offers a neat update on Petty’s age old drive to be free. “I’ve got a dream/I’m gonna fight ‘til I get it,” he sings, echoing the sentiments of “I Won’t Back Down” and so many other odes to personal liberation.
Reminiscing about playing the Forum back in 1980, Petty surprises with a song from that new wave era, “Don’t Do Me Like That,” before guitarist Mike Campbell – looking like a cross between Don Was and Slash, resplendent in green fedora and checked green jacket – cranks up one of his patented solos for another new track, “Forgotten Man,” yet another Petty ode to being out of touch in these modern times.
“Free Fallin’” resonates with its reference to nearby Encino,” while a Benmont Tench piano intro leads to “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me),” which builds up a neat guitar drone between Petty and Campbell.
Another new track, “U Get Me High” has a psychedelic blues feel to it, while Petty promises “cosmic rewards by the end if you listen closely” to the acoustic “Rebels,” a track from Southern Accents that incorporates some delicate, Dylanesque three-part harmonies.
The cover of Little Feat’s “Willin’” shows the Heartbreakers’ love of the Grateful Dead, a country rockish take which makes you think, if they so choose, the band could make itself right at home in the new Nashville of acts like Eric Church, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan.
The sing-song “Yer So Bad,” from Petty’s 1989 solo album Full Moon Fever recalls the band’s love of Buddy Holly, but it is “Learning to Fly” that represents an emotional high point, the audience filling in the lyrics. “Shadow People,” another Hypnotic Eye song, this one about modern paranoia, features Campbell on Flying V, with a “Cold Turkey” chorus as Petty intones his modern political dilemma, “Well, I ain’t on the left/And I ain’t on the right/I ain’t even sure I got a dog in this fight,” he says slyly. Hey, join the club, dude.
“Refugee” and “Running Down the Dream” close the pre-encore set, as Campbell changes into a red top hat to squeeze out some Garcia licks on “You Wreck Me,” from Petty’s 1994 solo Wildflowers, into “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” complete with a musical nod to “Angel in the Morning” and a lyrical one to “It Ain’t Me Babe,” then finishing up with a cathartic “American Girl” that brought the evening to a very satisfying close.
Might as well put it in the time capsule. The boomers are dead, long live the boomers. It was a night to stand our ground because we won’t back down. Unless we have to, that is.