Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers prove their Mojo

A review of Tom Petty & the Heartbrekaers at the Comcast Center on August 19, 2010

, Contributing Writer

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers hit Mansfield last Thursday night for the first of two shows at the Comcast Center. Touring in support of their new album, Mojo, the band delivered a rousing mix of his old hits and new songs, making for one of the summer’s best shows before a crowd of all ages.

After an opening set by My Morning Jacket and some extended work by the stage crew in between sets, the venue finally darkened, rousing the slumbering beast that was twenty thousand people clamoring for a show. The cheering and screaming reached a near-absurd level even before the band began playing. At last, Petty emerged, looking rather neat in a suit and tie and trimmed beard. He does like to prolong things; between his leisurely entrance, the drawn-out conclusions of several of the set’s songs, and the extended recess before the encore, it was obvious that he likes to get the most out of his fans. They didn’t seem to mind, either, as Petty was almost drowned out several times during opener “Listen To Her Heart” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels”. He then paused to address the crowd, peppered with flashes as thousands of hungry cameras devoured his image. “Well, how are you?” he asked jovially, as if he was addressing an old friend. And in a way, he was – as he would mention later, Boston was one of the first cities to give the band radio play.

One great feature of a Tom Petty concert is his attempts to dance – every once in a while, he’d jerk into some awkward dance step, choreographed with a striking chord or drumbeat. Maybe he assumes that the ability to dance is something every rock star naturally possesses, or maybe The Heartbreakers never told him that it’s not his forte out of sympathy, or perhaps a running joke – but his odd hopskips did provide for some comical sights over the course of the night.

Better still is the opportunity to witness Mike Campbell bring the electric guitar to life. His name is not among Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Guitarists of All Time, but on Thursday night, he made a strong case that he deserves a spot. The first display of fretwork came during the cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” as he delivered riff after awing riff between rapid lyrical sequences from Petty. He shined especially when the band presented a sequence of tracks from the Heartbreaker’s new album, Mojo. The songs add a blues element to the band’s repertoire, unexpectedly fitting in well with their previous style of rock. Fingers sliding gracefully up and down the neck while a calm look came upon his face as Campbell delivered solos  worthy of blues guitar greats in “Jefferson Jericho Blues”, “Good Enough”, and “Running Man’s Bible”. His best came with “I Should Have Known It”, which would have done the late Stevie Ray Vaughan proud. Campbell shares the stage well with Petty; their amiable chemistry is evident when Petty plays rhythm behind Campbell’s fillers and solos, and even when they alternate rolls.

Of course, all the old hits were present. “I Won’t Back Down” and Full Moon Fever’s masterpiece “Free Fallin’” came third and fourth in the set, leaving fans wondering if the Heartbreakers had perhaps rolled out the big guns a little early. But there was nothing to worry about; after playing through a mini-set of tracks from Mojo, the band closed their main set with fan favorites “Learning To Fly”, “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, and “Refugee”. “Learning To Fly” featured the night’s only piano solo, and Benmont Tench took advantage of the opportunity. He delivered a lively melody, punctuated by intricate chords and soaring glissandos.

After a playfully extended wait before the encore, the Heartbreakers returned for a three song set of “Running Down A Dream”, which featured Petty and Campbell alternating leads on matching Gibson Firebirds, a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Carol”, and, of course, “American Girl”. Petty was almost drowned out again during the final song’s chorus, fighting to be heard against an army of passionate fans brandishing air guitars. Finally, the band departed again to a well-deserved ovation.

There’s no doubt that Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers have taken their place among the legends of rock and roll. Even if they are getting a bit old – Petty will turn 60 this October – fans still appreciate the sentiment of seeing one of their favorite bands in action. Not many rock groups can keep a crowd of twenty thousand on their feet for the entirety of an eighteen song set, but there was hardly a seat in use over the course of the night. Just as impressive is how the Heartbreakers draw interest from multiple generations, retaining a devoted collection of veteran fans, while their younger audience proves that the band’s music remains as relevant as ever.

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