Over the Weekend: Tom Petty and Co. Bring On Classic Rock Catharsis

Categories: Last Night

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Christopher Victorio

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Joe Cocker
@Oracle Arena
June 5, 2010

Better than: Pill-based forms of anxiety relief

Uptight white people, the remedy you require is Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. As it went down Saturday, the anxiety cure-all constituted three parts unabashed rock nostalgia mixed with two parts stoned swagger and one part raunchy-ass guitar solos. Sprinkled with shit-wide grins, dressed all up in Petty's princely suit -- here was a place to hide your head from Today's Multicultural Noise. No rapping, no mixtapes, no drum machines and no Maya Arulpragasam. Just rock. Just like it used to be. Just don't mind that they missed a few notes -- the aim here was cartharsis, not precision; reliving, not revamping. Petty and Co. rendered their FM radio warhorses with full gusto (stumbles and all) and pinched ideas whole from Zep and other vintage greats for some newer material. But it all felt plenty good going down.

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Christopher Victorio

Petty, 59, isn't new to the rock 'n' roll thing anymore, but he looked happy to be onstage. "We're feeling really really good ... we're back in the Bay Area!" he droned early on in a way that made one wonder if there weren't a few other, chemical-based reasons for his wide smile. Mike Campbell, the Heartbreakers' lead guitarist, took the stage looking like a drowned Jimmy Page, with greasy black dreadlocks dangling down his scalp. 

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Christopher Victorio

The show truly fired up Saturday with the highway classic "Listen To Your Heart," second in the set but the first real rocker, which spread glee along the vast walls of pale faces in the none-too-diverse crowd. "I Won't Back Down" felt fittingly reassuring; a brief cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" muscled cheers; "Free Falling" rained warmth even without the 12-string guitar. On a taut "Mary Jane's Last Dance," the giant split screens behind the stage flashed red-tinted wisps of smoke. (It was, of course, an unnecessary reminder -- Bic lighters stadiumwide were flicked and more columns of dense smoke spent forth as the singer's grin widened.)

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Christopher Victorio

The middle section of the show saw Petty and Co. try out songs from Mojo, their first album of new material in eight years, which is due out June 15. "First Flash of Freedom" is a pseudo-psych bore, but "Jefferson Jericho Blues" revives a seasoned blues structure with a refreshingly stripped-down feel. It had Petty and Campbell trading searing licks with each other as the band evoked Chicago's Maxwell Street circa 1963. 

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Christopher Victorio

But Petty knew he had an arena to please. "It's been great playing new songs for you. We're gonna play one more, then we're just gonna play hits all night," he said, as a seemingly relieved crowd erupted. The the hits came -- and with Petty and Co., it can be a shock to remember just how many classic rock staples they've penned. "Learning to Fly" saw the video screens bathed in fake starlight. "Don't Come Around" shot white strobe lights out into the crowd. "Refugee" isn't quite as hard a rocker as some in the audience seemed to think it was -- there were air guitarists aplenty -- but Petty strode around the stage and courted fans in all directions. Even a few shaky starts and missed notes (most noticeably from Campbell during the solo to otherwise-stunning closer "American Girl") couldn't spoil the potency of Petty and the Heartbreakers' rock 'n' roll medicine.

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Christopher Victorio

Certainly Petty looked more vivacious than opener Joe Cocker, who nonetheless sparked gasps from the audience with his still-gravelly-voiced Beatles covers and strong band. Cocker, balding and round in a black shirt and black slacks, waved his arms and did wild air guitar during the the grittiest parts. Later, he took mild leaps above the stage as his lithe background singers did lots of the musical heavy lifting. Yet Cocker's covers are undeniable classics -- he sounds way more whiskey-worn than Ringo ever did -- and hearing "With A Little Help From My Friends," the O.G. Woodstock highlight, still sent chills down this spine.


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