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Concert Reviews:
Tom Petty lets music carry the night at DTE

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Monday, August 25, 2014

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- A single white streamer from Kiss' concert the previous night hung from the roof of the DTE Energy Music Theatre pavilion as Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers began their show on Sunday, Aug. 24 -- as if challenging its classic rock compatriots to deliver an equally exciting performance.

Petty and company did just that, albeit in a decidedly different manner.

This is a group that's about music rather than spectacle, an aesthetic that hasn't changed during the 38 years it's been putting out records -- and that wasn't about to vary on Sunday, less than four weeks after the sextet logged the first No. 1 album of its career with the new "Hypnotic Eye."

As tight and instinctively sharp as ever, the Heartbreakers glided through a nearly two-hour, 21-song set that celebrated the varied subtleties and dynamic nuances of Petty's catalog, but still with plenty of fire and oomph. A quieter-than-usual mix allowed for a near-perfect sonic balance -- though it occasionally under-amplified Mike Campbell's searing guitar solos -- while the setlist mixed the expected and enduring favorites with plenty of surprises for the near sell-out DTE (or, as Petty insisted, Pine Knob) crowd, which included Petty pal Bob Seger.

Among the latter was the deep cut "Spike," which Petty preceded with an anecdote about the song's genesis during a vacation back in his home town of Gainesville, Fla. "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)" made a welcome return to the set, while "Rebels" was revised with a gentle, acoustic-flavored arrangement as delicate as "I Should Have Known It," a Led Zeppelinesque psychedelic blues workout from 2010's "Mojo," was powerful. The covers list included the Byrds' jangly "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star," which opened the show, Ray Charles' "I've Got a Woman" and Paul Revere & the Raiders' "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" -- later popularized by the Monkees -- during the encore.

The "Hypnotic Eye" selections fit comfortably with their predecessors, with "American Dream Plan B," "Forgotten Man" and "U Get Me High" hearkening to hearkening to the garage rock energy of the Heartbreakers' early days and the lyrically pointed "Shadow People" giving Petty and Campbell a chance to stretch out with extended guitar breaks.

The hits, meanwhile, were nothing short of bulletproof, whether it was rockers such as "Mary Jane`s Last Dance," "Refugee," "Runnin' Down a Dream" and "You Wreck Me," the dependable anthem "I Won't Back Down" or mellower but still potent fare like "Into the Great Wide Open" (which Petty jokingly claimed "is absolutely all I remember of 1991"), the buoyant "Yer So Bad" and a beautiful "Learning To Fly" that finished with Petty "conducting" the crowd singalong. "American Girl" closed the night, as is Petty's custom, and his declaration that "Rock 'n' roll is alive!" was roundly, and loudly, seconded by the crowd.

Petty could, of course, credit opening act Steve Winwood with an assist for the night's success. His fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Famer -- also displaying still-intact vocal, keyboard and guitar chops -- offered up an hour's worth of "music...of a vintage nature," delivering hits from his time in the Spencer Davis Group ("I'm a Man," "Gimme Some Lovin' "), Traffic ("Medicated Goo," a pairing of "Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys" and "Empty Pages," "Dear Mr. Fantasy) and Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home," along with a cover of Buddy Miles' "Them Changes." Only Winwood's solo smash "Higher Love" felt a bit empty, crying for a fuller arrangement than he and his four-piece band could offer -- but more than compensated for with the rest of the material.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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