There’s something timeless about Petty’s music. The man himself is seemingly ageless; his voice has avoided the deepening pitfalls of most other singers, his face looks hardly different than it did in the mid-’80s, and his songs seem to have universal appeal. Many in the audience at the second of a two-night tour-opening run had not been born when Petty’s first hit, “American Girl,” was released in 1976, yet almost all knew the lyrics and sang along to that tune, plus many more in his extensive catalog.
On a stage draped with red curtains that leant a somewhat intimate feel to the confines of the 1stBank Center, Petty and his Heartbreakers commanded the stage from the first song, a rocking “Listen to Her Heart.” The Heartbreakers took off on the second number of the night, a fiery “You Wreck Me,” as guitarist Mike Campbell tore into the solo with abandon.
Petty told the audience he was going to try to dig into some of his lesser-known back catalog. Though “Handle With Care” — a Traveling Wilburys tune that had Scott Thurston singing the Roy Orbison part — probably was more hit than rarity, the introspective “The Best of Everything,” which Petty dedicated to drummer Levon Helm of the Band, who died earlier Thursday, probably was one tune only the die-hard fans knew. Petty also introduced “Have Love Will Travel,” as one of the favorite songs he’s ever written.
Petty has been in the news lately for the theft of some rare guitars. The thief has been caught, and the band got the instruments back, but Petty made a wry reference to the episode during “Spike,” calling out the characters in the shady bar as “guitar thieves.”
There was plenty of room for audience sing-alongs, especially on “Free Fallin'” and acoustic-oriented versions of “Learning to Fly” and “Yer So Bad.” The band itself got to stretch out on a jam-band worthy take on J.J. Cale’s “Travelin’ Light,” while Petty exhorted the crowd and band to “do some headbanging” before a raucous “I Should Have Known It,” and stated he was playing “Good Enough” by audience request, though since he played it the first night as well, it’s hard to know if that was a genuine sentiment.
On the set-closing “Running Down a Dream,” Petty and Campbell turned in the jangly Rickenbacker guitars for hard-rocking Gibson Explorers (see James Hetfield, et al.) and worked the crowd and stage like the veteran pros they are. The posturing during the final guitar crescendo was eaten up by the crowd, and would have seemed cheesy if the two hadn’t clearly been having so much fun rocking like it was the mid-’70s.
Regina Spektor opened the show, and though her song volume seemed a little low for such a large venue, “Fidelity” sounded as good as ever.
Listen to Her Heart, You Wreck Me, I Won’t Back Down, Here Comes My Girl, Handle With Care, The Best of Everything, Something Big, Have Love Will Travel, Free Fallin’, Spike, Travelin’ Light, Time to Move On, Learning to Fly, Yer So Bad, I Should Have Known It, Good Enough, Refugee, Running Down a Dream, E: Mary Jane’s Last Dance, American Girl
Glenn Ross is a Denver-based photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work here.