Petty and his crew still pack a punch


IT’S BEEN 20 years since Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers graced Europe with their presence, so it’s no surprise the 61-year-old troubadour gets a more-than-warm welcome from the Irish fans.

Not that he’s been idle these past two decades; he’s had some of his biggest hits in the 1990s, both solo and with The Heartbreakers, and he continues to play to sold-out arena crowds in the US.

The Gainesville, Florida rocker may not have quite the same spiritual, emotional and political heft of his New Jersey contemporary, Bruce Springsteen, but his place in the pantheon of great American rock is assured through such hits as Learning To Fly, Into The Great Wide Open and Free Fallin’.

And just to seal his street cred, Peter Bogdanovich’s four-hour documentary, Running Down a Dream, paints an indelible portrait of a great American rock star.

Recently, Petty flexed his political muscle, after Republican candidate Michelle Bachman dared to use his song American Girl in her campaign.

In 2000, Petty had stopped George W Bush from using his song I Won’t Back Down, so needless to say he didn’t back down from this latest assault on his integrity.

Petty and his Heartbreakers took to the O2 stage at 9.05pm, looking older but no less vintage. No sign of Petty’s trademark grey stovepipe hat – that was destroyed in a house fire a few years ago – but his long-time band mates – keyboard player Benmont Tench, guitarist Mike Campbell, bassist Ron Blair, Drummer Steve Ferrone and multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston – were present and correct.

The band opened gingerly with Listen to Her Heart, then pushed it a bit more with You Wreck Me, before sealing the deal with I Won’t Back Down and Here Comes My Girl. “It’s been far too long since we were last here,” said a bearded and besuited Petty, then launched into Handle With Care. Oh, yeah, I forgot, he was in the Travelling Wilburys too. What a legend.

A recent song, Good Enough, from the 2010 album Mojo, was a bluesy, Zep-esque three-guitar assault – good enough for me.

The band followed that with a rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well, but Petty’s own Free Fallin’ really lifted the gig to the next level. It’s Good To Be King was a right royal wig-out. He may not be the King of American rock, but he’s one of its bravest captains.