Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers Keep Rock ‘n’ Roll Alive
After two sold-out Eminem and Rihanna MONSTER tour stops at Detroit’s Comerica Park Friday and Saturday night, plus a sold-out KISS and Def Leppard show at Clarkston’s DTE Energy Music Theatre Saturday night, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ Sunday concert (also at DTE) faced stiff competition from the weekend’s preceding events. Petty and company proved the bar could be met with an exciting yet relaxed performance that was an ideal departure from Friday and Saturday’s accelerated shows.
Opening the evening was Steve Winwood, who was backed by a four-piece band. Winwood played hits spanning his entire career, such as Traffic’s “Medicated Goo” and his own “Higher Love,” and was given a standing ovation from the crowd after nearly every number during his hour-long set. He left a radiating energy—the atmosphere was just right for Petty to take the stage.
From 9 PM to nearly 11 PM, Petty delivered almost two hours worth of classic material, new tracks off his latest record Hypnotic Eye, and a few covers to round out the set. Production-wise, the stage was simple. Layout included a draping backdrop that reflected each song’s lighting and an overhead lighting arrangement above the band. It complimented Petty’s sound well, which is modest and unpretentious; it allowed his music to shine through and gather the crowd’s attention, as opposed to having that attention focused on visuals. This show was about the music and music only.
Petty gave a nod to the venue, affectionately calling it Pine Knob (its former name) and recalling the first time he ever played there in 1980. With a 21-song set list, he kicked off with his cover of The Byrds’ “So You Want To Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” and followed with “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” He proceeded to run through “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’,” and “Refugee,” plus a cover of Ray Charles’ “I’ve Got a Woman” in the mix. The Heartbreakers played a combination of mostly Fender guitars with a few Gibson Flying Vs and Rickenbackers thrown in for good measure, and they jammed—hard.
“Running Down a Dream” ended the first portion of the set, but it was soon followed by a three-song encore that began with “You Wreck Me.” “Rock and roll is still alive!” shouted Petty, who then dropped a surprise cover of Paul Revere and The Raiders’ “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone” before ending the night with the red, white, and blue lit-up “American Girl,” which has been the band’s go-to closer for decades.
In their 38 years running, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers have maintained a defined live experience that is strictly about the music, and that concept doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.