With more than 30 years of experience and a long string of smash hits, Tom Petty and his veteran Heartbreakers nailed every nuance as they charged through nearly 20 songs at a packed Wachovia Center on Thursday night.
Wearing a beard and velvet blazer, Petty displayed his usual easygoing attitude, belying the bracing megawatt anthems at his fingertips. A line from "Mary Jane's Last Dance" came to mind as the Heartbreakers, defined by lead guitarist Mike Campbell's tight work, tore into material from the last few decades: "You never slow down / You never grow old."
That sleepy tune came early in the set, just after the punchy opener "You Wreck Me."
Following "I Won't Back Down" and the Damn the Torpedoes gem "Even the Losers," Petty wryly told the audience, "We've got a lot of singers out there. I can hear you." He then launched into a version of "Free Fallin' " in which seemingly everyone in the arena sang along.
Part of Petty's enduring appeal is those everyman lyrics about big spaces and breaking free. Another is his seamless assimilation of folk, rock, country, and blues into an easily recognizable whole. Petty once assembled the dream super-group the Traveling Wilburys - featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne - and he included the Wilburys' pitch-perfect "End of the Line" in this set.
Before the Heartbreakers, Petty played with Campbell and Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench in Mudcrutch, which reunited this year and released a self-titled album. But this tour, teased with a halftime set at the Super Bowl, was clearly all about the Heartbreakers.
Every cylinder fired perfectly as the men set to work on such well-worn chestnuts as "Waiting," "Learning to Fly," "Don't Come Around Here No More," "Refugee," and the encore-capping "American Girl." Petty even made room for a heartfelt medley in honor of the recently departed Bo Diddley, whom he called "a great man."