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In concert: Tom Petty at Jiffy Lube Live

tom pettyTom Petty, forever workmanlike. (All photos by Evy Mages/FTWP)

By Chris Klimek

When Tom Petty allowed himself a few words in praise of his since-forever band, the Heartbreakers, on Sunday night at Jiffy Lube Live, he introduced drummer Steve Ferrone as "the man who gets the job done." Petty could just as easily been doing something he seems to detest: talking about himself.

Everyone knows you don't go to Tom Petty for flash or invention. You go to him for the thing he has come to embody more than any other rocker of his generation: excitement-free dependability. Since 1976, he's rarely let more than a couple years go by without giving us another song or three that sounds just perfect on the radio of a car with the windows open. He's always made writing great -- well, greatish -- songs look easy.

So a workmanlike 100-minute set like Sunday's registers as a letdown: the same 17 or 18 songs in the same order as the night and the month before, with just enough unexceptional exceptions, such as that cover of Chuck Berry's "Carol," to prove the rule.

tom petty

Petty has long evinced a Zen resignation: Even on the line, "You could stand me up at the gates of Hell / But I won't back down," he sounds like he just woke up. As a result, his best-loved material has neither lost urgency nor gained resonance as he's aged (he'll turn 60 in October). He nestled four tunes from "Mojo," the bluesy, just-released new Heartbreakers product ("Running Man's Bible" and the Led Zeppy "I Should Have Known It" were the two that went over best) deep inside a protective cocoon of a half-dozen weatherbeaten classics ("Listen to Her Heart," "Learning to Fly," "Refugee") on either side. His greater interest in the new songs versus the old was palpable. (I probably imagined the note of apology in his voice when he introduced 1991's "King's Highway" as "an album cut.")

The multi-generational crowd bellowed along the choruses of "Free Fallin' " ("I get a lot of requests from girls for this song," Petty said) and "I Won't Back Down, " but Petty seemed determined to squander their enthusiasm. After rocking out an extended bridge, or turning a song over to the audience for a verse, instead of powering through one more ecstatic chorus, he'd just unceremoniously end the number. And for group of vets marching through the same set every night, the between-song intervals felt longer than Peter Bogdanovich's Petty doc "Running Down a Dream." (Three hours, 59 minutes, since you asked.)

The most playful part of the night was the extended breakdown in, err, "Breakdown," when Petty free-associated a few minutes of PG-rated come-ons in that sunburnt voice. "Well, what can I say?" he punted later, introducing keyboardist Benmont Tench, a founding Heartbreaker with whom he's been performing music literally since both men were children. I dunno, Tom: How about anything?

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tom petty

tom petty

tom petty

By Click Track  |  August 16, 2010; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Tom Petty  
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Comments

We must not have been at the same show. Tom Petty was AMAZING last night! It was the best concert of the summer. :)

Posted by: akc1106 | August 16, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

I saw the show in Atlanta, and if I'd missed it because of a review like this, it would have been a tragedy. The best thing I can say about this review is that the bias is up front. I should have stopped reading at "greatish."

Posted by: everysandwich | August 16, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I wish I got paid to attend concerts and write clever reviews like Chris Klimek...oh wait, no I don't...I'd rather pay my hard-earned money in our horrible economy so I can actually ENJOY the shows that I can afford. Tom Petty simply rocked. Crosby, Stills & Nash also rocked. This was the most fun I've had at a concert in years. Packed amphitheater, everybody on their feet for 2 hours of Heatbreaker hits and some very enjoyable new material. I've always enjoyed Petty's music, but after watching him and his amazing band perform hit after hit on stage I have become a true fan...and I'd like to believe that the true rock stars play for their fans and not for their critics anyway.

Posted by: JDH11 | August 16, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

Right on, JDH11!

Posted by: akc1106 | August 16, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Why does the Post even bother to review concerts? Their writers are all biased and it shows in every review. The concert was one of TP's best in this area in years and the fans that were there were loud and appreciative. No mention of CSN, who were also very good. Great photos with the story but leave Chris Klimek at home next time.

Posted by: Bandit33 | August 16, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

I would be interested in knowing what Chris Klimek's qualifications are to be a "music critic", because he sounds like he really has no idea about music. Is he a musician of any kind himself? How long has he been attending live performances? Who are his musical influences, what genres does he listen to, and how broad are his tastes? It seems like a publication as well-respected as the Wash Post should be able to find a true music critic who actually understands music and live performances, instead of this hack.

I sat in the FRONT row last night for CSN and TP, and I can tell you that both acts rocked the house. The 20,000 plus crowd was not dissappointed, and the enthusiasm was overflowing. The only thing that could have made it even better was if TP had brought CSN on stage to play a song or two with him. At 59, TP is a legend, and the band is so tight. People know what they're going for when they see TP, and he absolutely delivered it last night.

Posted by: jonguth | August 16, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Well I was there last night and enjoyed every minute of it. I became a fan of TP and the band by going to see them for the firt time two years ago. I would have liked them to have played longer, did more of my old favs and played with CSN; but you know - they played in Buffalo the nite before and they still kicked it. The WP critic is paid to be a critc and not a fan. He did not smile, sing along like m, and have a great time like the rest of us.
See you next time you roll into town TP and HBs, and I hope you have another great opening act as you have in the past; Winwood and CSN...long live rock and roll !

Posted by: RonNOVA | August 16, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

Who do they hire to write this stuff? Come on WP you are slipping. TP rocked and I was not even looking forward to going. His lead guitar is the man. If he had any ego he would be out on his own with his own band. The crowd was nuts and the stage back ground was sick. Was the DB that wrote this even at the show? What a clown, what shows has he given a good review about. It is most likely some, euro trash band that is more about glam then music, bc TP and his band are true musicans that have mastered their craft and are not all about glam or looks. Only wish they had played longer and ended it with "Good to be king"

Posted by: Dannygirlsucks | August 17, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

And the disconnect between fact and fiction grows larger. The Washington Redskins Post needs to have qualified reviewers, not writers, attend these musical performances.

Posted by: backseatreviewer | August 17, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Funny how everyone is criticizing the reviewer. He's entitled to his opinion. You have to keep in mind reviewers watch a concert differently than a fan who has paid good money to see the show, is excited, and probably inebriated or something else. I've seen many concerts in my lifetime and would love to once just watch one from the perspective of a critic. Let's face it, Petty has probably done hundreds and hundreds of shows in his long career. They can't all be good, and after doing it for so long, you wonder if he's just going through the motions, which seems to be what the reviewer is saying. Petty's newest album is selling well, which doesn't say much. Most of the reviews I've read about it are not very good. I like Petty, but his time has come and gone. He's 60 for crying out loud.

Posted by: davidwg46 | August 17, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

While davidwg46's point is well-taken--that is, that the critic has the right to his opinion--so do the readers of the article have the right to criticize his critique. I agree that Tom Petty fans are probably a bit biased, particularly since they've paid money and may have had some drinks, or whatever. However, I think the point that folks are trying to make is that too often critics are looking for things to be negative about, and too often, critics don't know anything about the subject on which they are writing. I am reminded of a great quote from the end of the movie Ratatouille, made by the character Anton Ego, a food critic known for his negative reviews:

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so."

Posted by: joemomma3 | August 17, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

TP did 2 covers (Berry's "Carol" and Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" which was AWESOME), one deep cut-ish (King's Highway), and 4 songs from the new CD. So about 40% the show was made up of "non-hits." What does Klimek want? A concert of deep cuts? No thanks! While I personally wasn't impressed by CSN (watching them actually depressed me a bit), TP was great!

Posted by: Dakota6 | August 17, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

This review is totally wrong. Went to concert in Nashville Thursday night, sat in back tier and still the best concert we have been to all summer. We aren't even die-hard Tom Petty fans, but we found the whole set enjoyable as we rocked out.

Posted by: swood30 | August 17, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

Typically I find a review less than dependable when the reviewer doesn't know the names of the artists he's reviewing-- that's "Benmont" Tench on keyboards, not "Bemont". And yes, when an artist has recorded with everyone from Johnny Cash to the Ramones to Green Day, as Tench has, it seems reasonable for Petty to use the phrase "Well, what can I say?", as in "there really isn't anything more that needs to be said, once you know that its Benmont Tench". Assuming one knows popular music in any depth at all, there isn't.

Posted by: WaterGuy1 | August 17, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Typically I find a review less than dependable when the reviewer doesn't know the names of the artists he's reviewing-- that's "Benmont" Tench on keyboards, not "Bemont". And yes, when an artist has recorded with everyone from Johnny Cash to the Ramones to Green Day, as Tench has, it seems reasonable for Petty to use the phrase "Well, what can I say?", as in "there really isn't anything more that needs to be said, once you know that its Benmont Tench". Assuming one knows popular music in any depth at all, there isn't.

Posted by: WaterGuy1 | August 17, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Thanks WaterGuy1. Typo corrected.

Posted by: ChrisRichards | August 17, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

JDH11, you are absolutely right on! I took my daughter to her first TP concert the summer she turned 21, and we've gone every summer (that he comes here) since; this was our 6th mom/daughter Tom Petty concert, and it definitely won't be the last. They ROCKED the place totally. If being "workmanlike" and "predictable" is supposed to be a slam, then slam away. The whole show was awesome, CSN sounded great too (and I've been seeing CSN concerts for 3 decades now). I could have wished for CSN and Tom and the boys to do a little jamming at the end, but barring that, it was a GREAT night. And I agree with the other folks who have posted regarding the reviewer. He needs to stick to his chamber music concerts, for pete's sake. What a pile of rot this review was.

Posted by: crfleming@comcast.net | August 17, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

I have been a Tom Petty fan for years - mostly enjoying his "hits" on the radio. I do own 4 or 5 albums. This was my first TP concert, and it ROCKED! My husband and I have been to a combined 30 concerts or so of various artists, and we both agreed this was the best concert we have attended. The sound mix was perfect - no one musician or singer was too loud and your ears didn't ring after the show. Petty was energetic and did work the crowd - much more than I thought he would based on my perceptions of him. The band was tight and Tom Petty's unique voice sounded as good (if not better!) live than on a studio recording. And, to get the incredible CSN as an opening act - that's just icing on the cake. I'm glad I didn't read this review before the show. And, I don't care if he did the same show as he did the night before or the month before. Most concert-goes only go to one show.

Posted by: SandyG69 | August 17, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Hey everybody, thanks for reading and commenting.

I had a line in my original version of this piece making it clear my expectations for this gig were set by 1) last year’s superb TP & the HBs' live box set, which demonstrated the Heartbreakers’ virtuosity and versatility in a way that this particular concert, in my view, did not; and 2) Petty’s recent statements that he intended to play a lot of new/previously underperformed material this summer and “won’t turn into a human jukebox.” Hey, he said it, I didn’t!

Here he played a mere four new songs, nothing else from the 21st century, then a pair of road-tested hits and yes, one deep cut from the (first half of) the 90s. Eight of the 18 songs were concert warhorses now old enough to buy themselves a $13 beer at the concession stand. That’s fine; that’s obviously what most of the audience wants to hear. It just didn’t appear to me that that’s the stuff Petty is excited to play these days. The performances of many of those legit classics sounded rote, as evidenced by their abrupt endings just as the audience was really getting exercised.

I think it’s fair to compare Petty to performers like Dylan, Neil Young, and Bruce Springsteen, all of whom I’d say approach their live performances in a more adventurous way than TP does now, though Dylan and Young are both more erratic in concert than Petty is. I doubt TP is ever less than solid — but on this night, he was no better than that, either. To all who disagree: I’m truly glad you had a great time.

The Heartbreakers, and Benmont Tench, need no introduction. But if you’re going to do it, then do it!

Posted by: ChrisKlimek1 | August 17, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

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