Tom Petty sticks with hits in Hollywood Bowl redux

Fri Jun 27, 2008 12:58am EDT
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By Erik Pedersen

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - No flashpots, lasers or elaborate stage sets. No grimacing solos or rehearsed rants.

So why -- year after year, tour after tour -- does Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers remain one of the best live acts in rock? It's the sound, and the songs.

With innate professionalism, effortless versatility and alternately muscular and graceful music, the Rock Hall of Famers delivered a typically crowd-pleasing show at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday.

Petty and the band are on a roll the past year, with a four-hour documentary and Super Bowl halftime show to their credit. They likely could have sold out Staples Center on this tour but opted for a return visit to the Bowl, which they also packed two summers ago. With no new record to promote, this show was markedly similar to that 2006 gig: same length, 13 of the same songs and Petty's word-for-word intonation that "I've come to rock Hollywood."

Meanwhile, the crowd's phrase of choice -- overheard in the parking lot, beer lines and seats -- was, "I hope he plays ..." Few likely went home disappointed. Half of the set's 20 songs are on the 10-times-platinum "Greatest Hits" album; a half-dozen others, including the three covers, are staples of classic rock radio.

But that left precious little for the hardcore fans -- the ones who have been coming to their shows for decades and likely always will. So Petty and his band remain mired between a pair of adages: Give the people what they want versus you can't please everyone. The staid set list is the only major gripe about Heartbreakers shows these days, though, and this one had plenty to enjoy.

Some of the songs were played note-for-note, some extended -- exactly as it should be. "You Wreck Me" was moved from its encore slot in '06 to leadoff, priming the crowd. A couple of radio mainstays later, Mike Campbell's searing guitar lead on "Even the Losers" was as effective as ever, further clouding memories of when Petty opted to turn that one into an acoustic piece live. "Sweet William," unreleased in the U.S., toyed with tempos, whisking from whisper to scream and back.

Opener Steve Winwood joined the band for the Blind Faith classic "Can't Find My Way Home" and the bar/wedding/prom/garage band chugger "Gimme Some Lovin'." The latter was played with a rock lover's glee, with Winwood showing that he's still on the Hammond B-3 A-list. It left the sold-out crowd buzzing.   Continued...

<p>Tom Petty performs during the half time show of the NFL's Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Arizona February 3, 2008. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson</p>