Tom Petty Marks 30Years on the Road As the Consummate Journeyman

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music, Concert Reviews,   From Issue 620   By: Scott Baker

17th August, 2006     0

Thirty years down and it's time to throw a party.

At least that's the impression Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are toting city to city. Having announced back in April, the Highway Companion Tour, which is in conjunction with Petty's new 'solo' album of the same name, the artist is featuring many opening acts of their own headline status to help celebrate the event in style, with the likes of Pearl Jam, The Allman Brothers, and former Phish front man Trey Anastasio, among others.

At DTE Energy Music Theater on August 8, Anastasio walked onstage to the bright, glaring sunshine promptly at 7:30 p.m. A jam-based guitar hero over the course of the past 15 years, Anastasio hasn't seen Michigan soil for a gig since 2002 when fronting his solo band for the first time, just before the final Phish reunion (which sadly never made it back to the state). With his ever-present smile and excitement in the air, Anastasio kicked into the beginning licks of Drifting as the seats began to fill out.

Granted it was a sold out show, as it was last year with The Black Crowes, but many of the Petty die-hards and long time fans kicked back elsewhere, as the hippy-clad, Phish-friends started to dance and fill the isles with their swirls and We Love You Tray posters. Anastasio took note and immediately dialed in upon a long winding solo to take the phans into overdrive.

With a seven song set in an hour, Anastasio didn't forget to toss out a few Phish gems into the crowd including 46 Days and the set ending instrumental First Tube.  Background vocalists Jennifer Hartswick and Christina Durfee propelled every chorus to the back of the lawn, lifting the groove deeper into Clarkston.

Hooking up with keyboardist Ray Paczkowski and bassist Tony Hall, Anastasio was able to freely blend his new solo-style of groove songs and surround them with the long bursts of experimentation. Drummer Raymond Weber guided it around and brought it all back home. By the end of the set, it was clear Anastasio had won over many new fans. It was definitively a sunshine evening of dance and celebration for the band as well as the crowd. Anastasio noted it was his last night on the Tom Petty tour and he was happy to be asked to come along for the ride.

Petty & The Heartbreakers took stage after 9 p.m to a vision of bodies for what seemed to be miles. You could literally not see an empty seat when the house lights came up.

Heartbreakers' guitarist and co-producer of Petty's new Highway Companion, Mike Campbell, ripped into Listen to Her Heart, which set the pace for the evening. Giving the crowd as much kudos as his band, Petty was in excellent form physically and vocally and seemed to be enjoying every second of the show.

You Don't Know How It Feels, I Won't Back Down, and Free Falling continued Petty's hit barrage, creating a feast of sing-alongs and overbearing cheer to which Petty replied that the audience was "singing really loud tonight."

Backing vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Scott Thurston defined Petty's vocals, while long-time keyboardist Benmont Tench added the frills. The sound was rich and full and both acoustic and electric instruments harmonized well at DTE.

Petty helped celebrate by playing two influential songs that showed his roots by performing The Yardbirds' I'm a Man and Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac chart topper Oh, Well.
Joining original Heartbreakers bassist Ron Blair and drummer extraordinaire Steve Ferrone by the drum stand, Petty let Campbell take center stage for many extended solos and raves.
Petty also had a surprise up his sleeve. Announcing the band line-up, Petty introduced 'special guest' Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac onstage to join him for almost the entire remainder of the show. Nicks, dressed in trademark frill black and twirling herself around like a whirling dervish, gave solid vocals to their Stop Draggin' My Heart Around. The sound of the crowd at DTE was over-the-top with excitement. Nicks then hung in for I Need to Know, adding a buzz to the already stellar single.

Nicks returned on and off throughout the night, both on backing vocals next to Thurston and out front and center with the band leader. Petty delivered two songs off Highway Companion with Saving Grace, and a rare solo acoustic spot with Square One.  The Traveling Wilbury's single from the late '80s, Handle With Care, brought down the house, as it did the previous year.

With a three song encore ending with American Girl around 11 PM, it was an incredible trip down memory lane as well as into the future, leaving one wondering what the next 30 years holds in store for this master songwriter and showman.

Not many touring packages this brilliant come around very often for less than $75, let alone, leave you wanting more for your money.

Petty knows how to throw the best party.


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