Written by Samuel Barker
ImageLast time I saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was 2008 at the Woodlands Pavilion, just a couple of weeks before Hurricane Ike wrecked the place. The show was a beautiful experience and I could not help but walk out inspired by what I had witnessed that night.

Even through the mess the following weeks brought, I kept thinking back to that night and standing in the unseasonably cool evening air that night listening to some of my favorite songs ever floating out in the ether.

Jump ahead to six years and two albums later, would the Petty and his crew be able to capture the magic again? Both of their release, 2010’s Mojo and the brand new Hypnotic Eye, showed the songwriting and musicianship was still strong after nearly 40 years of playing together.

Plus, let’s be honest, there are few, if any, songwriters and bands that have been as prolific in creating quality rock n’ roll music as Petty and his Heartbreakers.

As the lights dropped, Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell, pianist Benmont Tench, bassist Ron Blair, drummer Steve Ferrone and multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston took the stage. One could not miss Campbell strapping on a 12-string Rickenbacker, even in the low lights, which led into a cover of the Byrds’ So You Want to Be a Rock n’ Roll Star.

ImageAs the lights rose with those first notes, the audience exploded into cheers and the night was under way. Just when it seemed the audience could not get much louder, Petty strapped on his old SG, walked to the front of the stage and strummed out the opening chords of Mary Jane’s Last Dance. The applause was second only to the forthcoming sing-along that started from the first line of the song until the last.

One thing that never escapes me about watching Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is that, after so many years of recording, touring and dealing with the ups and down of the music industry, they seem to enjoy every moment on the stage. Petty and Campbell play off of each other just as they did back in the mid-70s, they dance around the stage, play to the audience and look alive in a way few bands I see do these days.

Though I have yet to hear Hypnotic Eye, I will say the first offering from the album, American Dream Plan B, was a downright dirty rock n’ roll number that had everyone in the Toyota Center jamming along. Next up was Into the Great Wide Open, which Petty admitted to being about the only thing he still remembers from 1991.

The setlist was full of old favorites and a sprinkling of newer tracks. Even the track from Mojo, I Should Have Known It, already felt like a classic as people rocked out and sang along to every word.

It takes a special band to turn a cavernous basketball arena into a full out rock show that leaves spirits high, throats sore and feet painless despite hours of standing…Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are STILL one of those bands.

So You Want to Be a Rock n’ Roll Star
Mary Jane’s Last Dance
American Plan B
Into the Great Wide Open
Forgotten Man
I Won’t Back Down
Free Fallin’
A Woman in Love
U Get Me High
Yer So Bad
Learning to Fly
Shadow People
I Should Have Known It
Runnin’ Down a Dream
You Wreck Me
American Girl