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Concert Reviews:
Distractions Can't Keep Petty From Rocking Palace
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press.

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AUBURN HILLS -- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers faced some formidable competition during their show on Saturday night (May 31) at the Palace. But the creators of "Even the Losers" came out winners, with a vigorous and hit-filled hour-and-45-minute performance that held its own against the distractions.

One of those was at the Palace itself -- the hand-picked opener Steve Winwood, a bona fide rock 'n' roll legend whose 65-minute set was of a gauntlet-throwing headline quality itself. But also pulling the crowd's attention was Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals, with chants of "Let's Go Red Wings!" before Petty and company hit the stage as well as during the game, and a large contingent abandoned the show for a time to watch the end of the game on TVs in the Palace concourse.

Nevertheless, Mr. "Damn the Torpedoes" did just that. Sporting a velvet sports coat and announcing that "We're gonna have a good time tonight, I promise you," Petty brought the always facile Heartbreakers on stage rocking with "You Wreck Me," "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and the defiant "I Won't Back Down" and "Even the Losers." There was no shortage of fan favorites -- "Free Fallin'," "The Waiting," "Learning to Fly," "Don't Come Around Here No More," "Refugee" and "American Girl" among them, but Petty particularly impressed with the night's surprises.

He pulled out the gritty rocker "Cabin Down Below," an album track from his 1994 solo effort "Wildflowers." "Sweet William," an overseas B-side that's never appeared on a Petty or Heartbreakers album, brought in a touch of psychedelic blues, and "End of the Line" was a nice nod to Petty's tenure with the Traveling Wilburys supergroup that also included Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and the late George Harrison and Roy Orbison. Add another blues piece, "Honey Bee," and the delicate "Face in the Crowd" -- a showpiece for keyboardist Benmont Tench -- and Petty and the Heartbreakers proved that their 30-plus years of music-making has delivered a depth of quality material well beyond the hits, even though they were what had the Palace crowd singing along throughout the show.

Petty's staging was also up to long-established standards, with plenty of video incorporated in unusual forms -- projected onto curved scrims above the stage, on a larger screen at the rear of the stage and onto boxes that hung from the lighting rig, all bringing close-ups of guitarist Mike Campbell's numerous solos and Scott Thurston's backing and duet vocals and occasional harmonica licks. The proverbial good time was indeed had by all, even those who let their attention drift to the Red Wings game for part of the night.

Winwood, even with his own four-decade history, had the unenviable task of opening the proceedings but handled it well with a smartly paced nine-song performance that carefully positioned selections from his latest album, "Nine Lives," amidst more familiar fare from his days in the Spencer Davis Group ("I'm a Man," "Gimme Some Lovin' "), Traffic ("Dear Mr. Fantasy"), Blind Faith "(Can't Find My Way Home") and a modified version of his chart-topping 1986 hit "Higher Love" that reflected the polyrhythmic groove of the "Nine Lives" material. His high-pitched but strong voice still sounding youthfully fit, Winwood spent most of the night on organ but also showed he's not slouch on guitar, especially when he played his own version of good pal Eric Clapton's solo on the new record's "Dirty City."

And while he was unquestionably the show's support act, Winwood's presence and performance made sure it was a night of classic rock nirvana, pairing artists whose present feels as vital as their pasts.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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