This was my first time attending a show at the VerizonWireless Ampitheatre in Charlotte, and probably the 13th time I've seen Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers perform live. Charlotte's amphitheatre is nice - the atmosphere of an open air concert is always great on a nice night - but I could have done without the roof overhead. I'm sure it's great for when it rains, but part of the fun of looking up at the stars during the concert was lost.
Tom and the gang are touring in celebration of their thirty years as a band. Except for the drummer, Steve Ferrone who replaced Stan Lynch about a decade ago, and the addition of musician extraordinaire Scott Thurston, the band has the same lineup as when they made their first eponymous record way back in 1976. Mike Campbell has a new look, donning facial hair and deadlocks (picture a skinny Adam Duritz), and Tom isn't quite as bony as he used to be, but that Heartbreakers sound is unmistakable. The huge crowd was really into the show, with an inordinate amount of young hippies in the crowd probably there to see Phish's Trey Anastacio open up.
The band rolled through many of the hits they've amassed throughout the ages. They opened with "Listen To Her Heart" from 1978 and followed it up with "You Don't Know How It Feels" from '94. The songs I've heard him play countless times, "Free Fallin," "Mary Jane's Last Dance," "Refugee," "American Girl," sounded great, but Petty had some real treats for this leg of the tour. Besides playing some new songs "Square One," and "Saving Grace" from his new album Highway Companion which comes out next month, and the unrecorded as yet "Melinda," he also brought out Stevie Nicks to sing on "Stop Draggin My Heart Around" and "Insider," songs I've never heard performed live before. Stevie also took over vocals for "I Need To Know," and sang backup for "Learning to Fly." This was the first show of the tour, and Stevie and Tom haven't quite gotten the harmonies down yet, but it was still a terrific performance to see. It's interesting to note that no songs from the last two albums "The Last DJ" or "Echo" made the setlist.
Part of the Tom Petty concert experience is hearing fantastic versions of cover songs. Van Morrison's "Gloria" was part of the encore, The Yardbird's "I'm A Man" was mixed in, but most interesting was a kick-ass version of "Oh Well," an old Fleetwood Mac song that predates Stevie Nicks joining the group.
It's difficult for me to rank this concert with all the other times I've seen them, but I'm so glad I went. My wife had surprised me with the tickets, and it was the first time I've caught them live in several years. We don't get as many big acts down here in N.C. as we did in N.Y., and it was a great night for some great rock and roll. Tom Petty's still got it.