Chicago Sun-Times
Tuning in with Thomas Conner

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the United Center

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Tom Petty welcomes with open arms last night's sold-out crowd at Chicago's United Center. (Oscar Lopez/For the Sun-Times)

Two years ago, shortly after the release of the invigorating "Highway Companion," his third solid solo effort and the 18th album overall in a long and storied career, Tom Petty announced that he was swearing off large-scale arena tours for good.

But on Wednesday, there he was again at age 57, leading the Heartbreakers through a satisfying two-hour set at a sold-out United Center, and with his laconic charm and trademark nasal twang as oddly endearing as ever.

Without exception, there isn't an artist in rock history who hasn't been better appreciated in the clubs or theaters than in the enormodomes. And of the dozen Petty shows I've witnessed through the years, I doubt I'll see a better one than those he did at the Vic during a now legendary residency in 2003.

But there's no denying that Petty and the Heartbreakers are one of the all-time great pairings of a timeless songwriter and his ideal accompanists--easily on a par with Bob Dylan and the Band or Neil Young and Crazy Horse, though these blue-collar heroes rarely benefit from such lofty comparisons--and wherever they choose to perform, the rock world is a better place for having them.

Scanning the set list, you'd never know that Petty has a new disc in the stores: the recently released, long-overdue self-titled debut by his first band, Mudcrutch, which also featured his essential Heartbreakers foils, keyboardist Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell, in addition to Tom Leadon and Randall Marsh.

Petty would no doubt justify this evening's absence of any Mudcrutch songs by saying that the Heartbreakers are really a different band, and of course they are. But he's never been unduly worried about peddling new product; he didn't even use his Super Bowl appearance to flog the then-current "Highway Companion."

As usual, Wednesday's set was more about celebrating the interplay of this extraordinary group through a good-time mix of fan favorites ("I Won't Back Down," "Even the Losers," "Free Fallin'," "Mary Jane's Last Dance") and just enough rarities and deep cuts to please the hardcore collectors ("Sweet William," a bluesy barn-burner from an old European-only EP, the Traveling Wilburys' "End of the Line," the gonzo blues nugget "Honey Bee" and a deliriously jammed-out rendition of "Saving Grace," written for Cameron Crowe's film "Elizabethtown").

And all of it was as good as arena-rock can get.

Midway through the show, the group was joined by Steve Winwood, whose opening set in support of the new album "Nine Lives" was mostly lackluster faux-jazz easy-listening. The '60s vet was much stronger fronting the Heartbreakers for spirited versions of Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home" and the soul-garage staple "Gimme Some Lovin'."

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13 Comments

Great show! Only problem was Petty's vocals were totally lost in the UC cavern. The band sounded amazing, though.

Cannot even count how many times I've seen TP, but he rocked the United Center last night!!! Back up vocals were hard to hear but TP seemed to really dig the crowd and they back at him!

It was really cool to see the age range - from twenty-somethings to, well, Petty's age group (LOL).

It's the one band/concert I will always make time to see LIVE!!!

HAVE SEEN HIM MANY TIMES WITH MY FIRST BEING BACK IN THE EARLY 80'S, AND TOM AND THE HEARTBREAKERS HAVE NEVER GIVEN ME A BAD SHOW.

I don't see how you could so easily dismiss Winwood, the crowd loved him. "Square One" was the track from Highway Companion for Cameron Crowe's film "Elizabethtown", not "Saving Grace." Try doing some research before writing your next review. Great Journalism.

I agree, TP rocked the house last night. I have been a fan since 1976, I saw him in 1977. Amazing show............ I think TP was actually humbled by the out poring of love we Chicagoans had for him..........I don't know about you all, but his music has touched my life at many points over the past 32 years.........I hope he felt the love and how grateful we (I) are to have him share his gift with us! He is nothing short of awesome! I loved Steve Winwood too!

Played Great, It was just amazing. I LOVE TOM PETTY!

I have also seen Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers a dozen times now and I will always make time for him...where ever when ever! But I agree with John, the vocals were off and the sound didn't always sound right either, I think most of the instuments had too much of the focus, especially the organ. Regardless, the show still rocked, but doesn't even come close to his performance at Summerfest with Pearl Jam!

I agree with Joan. Do some research. Saving Grace was not written for Cameron Crowe's film. What a poser! Does this guy get paid to review concerts? Saw Tom at Blossom Music Center near Cleveland and will see him Tuesday in Cinci. We didn't get the jam with Steve at Blossom so I hope they team up in Cinci.

It was an amazing night and Tom Petty looked so handsome. Although he is already 57 going on 58 in October, he still has the motivation to entertain the crowd and make everyone feel like they are sitting in front row center!
Nice job Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers!

It was mine and my best friends 5th time seeing Mr. Petty and The Heartbreakers and I loved it!! He still rocks for 57 and I hope he does not stop!! Heck, Ringo Starr turned 68 today and he is still going!!! Tom Petty never disappoints me!!! But I do like the outdoor venues better with his hair blowing in the wind!! But I agree with some of the others, do your own material and go back in your vast catologe of songs and pull out more variety!! Thanks for a great rocking show and please keep on rocking for at least one more tour if not 2 more!!!!

D-Ro, you going soft on us? Giving a favorable, maybe even glowing, review of a uber popular artist that played in the UC. Got to agree with the Winwood defenders, he and his band gave us a killer set. Dear Mr. Fantasy was out of this world. It didn't have a masterful guitar solo like at Crossroads, but still it was fantastic. I guess ripping on Winwood keeps your yin and yang in balance. Because you couldn't give two positive reviews.
And just to recap, TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS ROCK!

This was my fourth time seeing Tom Petty and I loved the show. It was my fourth show at a fourth different venue. I liked the last show in Chicago at the Charter One Pavillion very much also. Winwood was good and the band was great. I hope Tom and the Heartbreakers come back to Chicago again.

Jim,
I always enjoy reading your column, but I feel that you often employ double standards when reviewing live shows from established acts. For example, you recently blasted Rage Against The Machine for playing a nostalgic greatest hits set at Lollapalooza. I'm not personally a huge Rage Against The Machine fan, and I agree that they played a set that relied heavily on feelings created the first time around. However, in your review of Tom Petty's United Center gig, you actually praise Petty for not taking the occasion to "pedel new product" but for instead focusing on the songs that made him famous in the first place. I've seen Petty twice in the past few year and greatly enjoyed myself on both occasions, but I'll be damned if the setlists weren't practically interchangeable. When do you feel that nostalgia hinders an artist's performance and when do you feel that the artist is making the right move to give the audience exactly what they came to hear?

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on July 2, 2008 11:13 PM.

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