- Image: Ben Wener/Hollywood Reporter
Beginning with the Byrds' "So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star" and a laid-back "Mary Jane's Last Dance," the band took a short while to build up steam. Petty's jiving rant during the third song— a cover of Big Joe Williams' "Baby, Please Don't Go" done in the style of Them—didn't do much to turn up the heat, sounding more like an awkward "uh oh, Grandpa's got the mic" episode than anything else. But I saw once saw Petty play a cover of Bo Diddley's "Mona" many years ago, and he did a fantastic, hilarious rant during that, so I know he's capable of pulling it off.
And once the Heartbreakers launched into a slow, almost dirgelike "Into the Great Wide Open," their full power was unharnessed, and if Petty & Co. aren't as spry as they once were, they didn't hold their fire, either. The list of massive hits they didn't play* is longer than the ones they did ("Free Fallin'," "Refugee," "I Won't Back Down"), but in their place we got some terrific oddities, including a Wilburys song that Bob Dylan originally sang, and a mid-set acoustic stretch that included the two best songs from Southern Accents: "Rebels" and a truly special "Dogs on the Run" that was my personal show highlight. If Petty ever decides to do an acoustic tour at some point during his autumn years, do not hesitate to buy tickets.
But generally, the six-piece band opted for full-octane chargers, and Petty's low-key showmanship and the band's relatively unfancy stage show kept the focus on the songs, where they belonged. The Moda Center audience—which I tweeted was somewhere aged between "cougar" and "doddering," but that's a slight exaggeration—even took the spotlight a couple times: during a sing-along stretch of "Learning to Fly" that gave me shivers, and during the encore break, in which the arena became a truly stunning array of phone-lamps. I've never seen so many people hold up their phones; if we were still in the era of holding up your lighter, that place would have been torched to the ground.
As is usually the case with big arena shows, seeing Petty and the Heartbreakers felt as much like paying homage as it was a primary musical experience. No minds were blown, no artistic windmills were tilted at, no metaphoric walls were torn down in the name of progress and enlightenment. (They didn't play "Walls," either.) Rather, Petty and the Heartbreakers embodied their songs in the best possible way—by making simple, basic, great-sounding music that was full of emotion and lacking in artifice. I'd go see them play any night of the week.
*Seriously, what other band could get away with NOT playing "Breakdown," "Don't Come Around Here No More," "Don't Do Me Like That," "The Waiting," "You Got Lucky," "Wildflowers," "I Need to Know," "Here Comes My Girl," "You Don't Know How It Feels," "Listen to Her Heart," "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," and "Even the Losers"?