If you’re a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fan, you entered the Aug. 5 concert with a sobering realization: This might be your last dance with Mary Jane.
Petty hasn’t performed in the Treasure Valley since 2002. It’s tough to imagine the 63-year-old making another stop 12 years from now. “We don’t get here real often,” the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer confessed, warning fans that they’d better alert the babysitter that it would be a late night. (Wha — grandparents need sitters? OK, actually, the crowd did include plenty of young people.)
On the second date of a North American tour, it gave Petty the latitude to present the 135-minute, 20-song evening his way. No overt setlist pandering. No fancy eye candy. Just the snappily dressed Heartbreakers packed in the center of the large Taco Bell Arena stage, almost as if they were in a rehearsal space.
Like a classic-rock distance runner, the group blazed out of the gate and finished with a kick. As grinning, underrated guitar hero Mike Campbell uncorked the three-chord barrage of opening barn burner “You Wreck Me,” Petty turned his back, raised his arms and bathed in the adoration of thousands screaming his euphoric chorus: “Woooaaah! Yeaaaaah!” As the song melted into a slower ending, Campbell’s ax spat quiet psychedelic shards.
Like the Heartbreakers’ first Gem State visit at a sold-out Idaho Center in 2001 — they played at the Nampa venue again the following year — fans nodded along and danced. Most stood. But there was an unspoken seriousness about savoring this powerhouse band. No beach balls bounced overhead this time. There were significant pockets of empty seats in the upper reaches of the otherwise mostly filled arena — a sign of changing times, if not the end of a rock era.
People sang along enthusiastically to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Free Fallin’ ” and “Yer So Bad,” making it difficult to discern precisely how well Petty’s vocals have held up. (He sounded solid, although two video screens revealed his hand trembling noticeably on guitar necks.) The audience acted like an army being energized by a general during “I Won’t Back Down,” and Campbell responded by raising an eyebrow at his own quick hits of slide-guitar prowess.
Petty showcased five songs off the group’s new album, “Hypnotic Eye,” at the expense of older fan favorites. He also noodled on guitar as if he was in his bedroom during “Tweeter and the Monkey Man,” an ill-chosen Traveling Wilburys cover that didn’t so much travel as stall momentum.
Diehards smiled along to a deep-album acoustic treat, “Two Gunslingers,” as well as “Rebels.” Petty successfully stretched his voice for the notes of “Learning to Fly,” reinvented as keyboard-and-acoustic-guitar catharsis. It morphed into a gorgeously uplifting call-and-response with the crowd.
Petty turned on a full-court rock press late in the show: the Led Zeppelin-mimicking “I Should Have Known It”; a sped-up “Refugee”; the freight-train-fast “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” By the time the Heartbreakers uncorked a two-song encore — “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and “American Girl” — it was impossible not to feel wiped out and satisfied.
When opener Steve Winwood and his crack band began its tight, hour-long set, traffic was still headed for seats. But even late arrivals witnessed the climactic highlight: a three-pronged stab of memory-jarring grooves: “Higher Love,” “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and “Gimme Some Lovin’. ” Not all warm-up singers get crowds on their feet. (Or are members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, too.) Winwood’s lip-curling funk and smooth-jazzish rock did the trick.
TOM PETTY SETLIST
1. You Wreck Me2. Mary Jane's Last Dance3. American Dream Plan B4. Into the Great Wide Open5. Forgotten Man6. I Won't Back Down7. Free Fallin'8. Fault Lines9. Tweeter and the Monkey Man10. U Get Me High11. Rebels12. Two Gunslingers13. Yer So Bad14. Learning to Fly15. Shadow People16. I Should have Known It17. Refugee18. Runnin' Down a Dream19. Don't Come Around Here No More20. American Girl