The tempos are slower, some of the songs are now played in lower keys better suited to an aging voice, and the band is modeling a diverse collection of hats, but Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers still mostly deliver on their promise of a "full-strength, industrial rock-and-roll show." The crowd at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday remained standing throughout, even during occasional longueurs.
The Heartbreakers, reaching their 40th anniversary, are more than 50 percent original, featuring one of rock's great guitarists in Mike Campbell (here resembling a zombie Slash until he finally removed his shades and hat), keyboard maestro Benmont Tench, and, on the bass, Ron Blair, who left the band in 1982, then rejoined after the death of his replacement, Howie Epstein. Steve Ferrone, "the new guy," celebrates his 20th anniversary in the band this year, his cooler technique having replaced the vibier Stan Lynch.
In rock-and-roll, almost everyone ends up playing the blues (whereas in pop music, they end up singing the American Songbook). And the Heartbreakers, though they play their old hits happily, are now both a garage band, as evidenced on the new album Hypnotic Eye, and a blues band, as on their previous album Mojo, from which "I Should've Known It" was one of the evening's low points, having the unlikely effect of making the Heartbreakers seem, for a moment, like a poor man's Black Crowes. Petty was never afraid of the obvious, but his days of writing pop that snaps and crackles, instant sing-alongs with catchy choruses, are, presumably through lack of inclination, over.
That's OK, because he has so many of them in his catalog, and it was instructive how many hits the 20-song set omitted: yes, "Learning to Fly" and its obverse "Free Fallin'," but no room for "I Need to Know" or "The Waiting," "Breakdown," or "You Got Lucky." Philadelphia heard precisely 12 of the hits in the 20-song set list, which perhaps isn't really enough. The remaining selections included four from Hypnotic Eye, all mercifully to-the-point, a Byrds cover, and two Steve Winwood songs.
I have nothing against Steve Winwood - in fact, I was annoyed that I missed his opening set - but seven songs into Petty's show, just when the Heartbreakers were getting going, he joined them on stage for Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home," followed by the Spencer Davis Group classic "Gimme Some Lovin'." Tickets were not cheap at $150 a pop, at least where your noble reviewer (who paid his own way) was sitting, and I felt that Petty's devoting 10 percent of his set to Steve Winwood was 10 percent too much. Classic rock is a genre - and we might be assumed to like all of it - but I was there to hear Petty, and would have preferred a couple of deeper cuts such as those recently dusted off during the band's residency at the Beacon in New York City in spring 2013.
I have seen the Heartbreakers make an amphitheater seem intimate, and a smaller club seem enormous. This show delivered, and the audience left happy, but the Wells Fargo remained defiantly Wells Fargo-sized.