Saturday, September 23, 2017

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers thrill in Hollywood Bowl opener

Tom Petty rocking at The Hollywood Bowl on Thursday night, September 21, 2017.
Photo: Drew A. Kelley
Robert Kinsler's review and Drew A. Kelley's photos were originally published on The Orange County Register website on September 22, 2017.

Review by Robert Kinsler

Performing the first of three concerts at the Hollywood Bowl that will close out their 40th year touring together, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers performed a two-hour concert on Thursday night that captured the magic of those four decades of spirited rock 'n' roll.

Opening with the "first track from the first album we ever did," Petty led the Heartbreakers through the classic rock-styled "Rockin' Around (With You)," bolstered by the musical handiwork of his Heartbreakers as well as the stellar vocal harmonies provided by Charley and Hattie Webb - also known as the Webb Sisters.
Mike Campbell, left, with Tom Petty at The Hollywood Bowl.
Photo: Drew A. Kelley

This was a setlist where Petty opted to dart around the chronology of his career, moving from that early 1976 track to the more luxurious '90s hit "Mary Jane's Last Dance" (enhanced by the Webb Sisters' shimmering voices).

Noting the ensemble has been on tour since April, Petty explained they look at the shows like "one big vinyl record and we drop the needle wherever we want." He then launched into the country-flavored "You Don't Know How It Feels," the latter from his 1994 solo album Wildflowers, with this extended take layered with acoustic guitars, harmonica and a strong groove provided by drummer Steve Ferrone and bassist Ron Blair. Another highlight came next, with "Forgotten Man" off Petty's most recent album Hypnotic Eye affording guitarist Mike Campbell another welcome chance to dazzle.
Tom Petty at Hollywood Bowl.
Photo: Drew A. Kelley

The 18-song set provided more than its fair share of hits, including audience sing-alongs, notably "I Won't Back Down" and "Free Fallin'."

One of the best performances of the night came via the introspective Americana-flavored "Walls," which featured some of Petty's most potent vocals of the night and a chance for him to play harmonica.

The night was filled with strong tracks, many extended beyond their studio length to allow for graceful work by Belmont Tench on keyboards and artful solos from Campbell. "Learning to Fly"  began as a mostly quiet arrangement with acoustic guitar and piano lines surrounding Petty's vocals before the band came in to lift the song into a rocker.

The end of the night was filled with many of Petty and the Heartbreakers' most beloved rockers, including the powerful "Refugee" and "Running Down a Dream." "You Wreck Me" ended the regular set, with Campbell and Tench playfully dueling solos during a stylish jam.

"I want to thank you so much for 40 really good years," Petty said before closing out the night with "American Girl," a song he noted that the band to used to play at Hollywood's landmark club Whisky A Go Go. That performance, like so many that preceded it this night, was delivered with power and precision celebrating one of rock's greatest and most enduring artists.

Opening the night was singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams, who delighted the crowd with an hour of original music blending rock, blues, folk and country stains. Standouts in her set included the beautiful "Drunken Angel" and politically-charged "West Memphis." Her set ended with the fiery blues rocker "Honey Bee."

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

With: Lucinda Williams
What: 40th Anniversary Tour
When: Thursday, Sept. 21
Where: Hollywood Bowl
Next: 7:30 p.m Friday, Sept. 22 and Monday, Sept. 25
Tickets: $49.50-$279.50

Information: 800-745-3000 and

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