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Concert Reviews:
Tom Petty and the Hearbreatkers bring major mojo to DTE
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

» See more SOUND CHECK

INDEPENDENCE TWP. -- In one of those crazy quirks of rock ’n’ roll, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers are celebrating their 40th anniversary this summer nearly 41 years after the release of their self-titled debut album.

No matter. On Tuesday night, July 18, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group had a packed crowd at the DTE Energy Music Theatre “Rockin’ Around” from that opening song -- the first track on that first album -- through a career-spanning two-hour show that left a great many of the big hits on the sidelines in favor of a more idiosyncratic lineup of tunes but displayed plenty of the “mojo” Petty asked about at the start of the concert.

Petty and company -- bolstered by the Webb Sisters duo on backing vocals -- did deliver some of the expected staples, including “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” a nice one-two punch of “I Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin’” and ferocious renditions of “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” But much of the show felt like a band’s choice set list -- and Petty’s in particular, with more songs (five) coming from his 1994 solo album “Wildflowers” -- than any other in his or the band’s catalog. That allowed for the fan sing-along favorites “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and “You Wreck Me,” as well as a dynamically extended treatment of “It’s Good To Be King.”

The 18-song set also let the Heartbreakers stretch out, allowing guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench in particular room to jam and improvise, mostly to good effect, and to exercise some Led Zeppelinesque, blues-rock chops on “I Should Have Known It.” “Learning To Fly” was a delicate treat in the show’s second half, while the jangly “Forgotten Man” and the smooth “Crawling Back To You” were welcome rarities.

Befitting the anniversary observation, meanwhile, the Heartbreakers played on an old school stage set, eschewing the props of previous tours in favor of a vintage cluster of amplifier stacks. Above and behind, however, it was all state of the art with a large video screen that occasionally displayed historical footage of the band and a grid of lighted globes that hung from the ceiling and floated in various formations.

Petty has spoken of this year’s jaunt as the band’s final major tour, and just before the finale of “American Girl” he expressed profuse gratitude to the DTE fans “for coming to see us for the last 40 years.” He noted that “I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to tell you,” implying again, but if Tuesday’s show was the last, or the last one for awhile, Petty and the Heartbreakers certainly left the metro area with a strong musical memory.

Another much-loved singer, the J. Geils Band’s Peter Wolf, opened the night on a stage he’s headlined a great many times over the years. His generous one-hour set with his tight quintet favored his own material -- from “Lights Out” to more recent, Americana-styled fare such as “I Don’t Wanna Know,” “Long Line” and “Wastin’ Time,” but Wolf also tossed in some arm-rolling dance moves for Geils tracks such as “Must Of Got Lost,” “Give It To Me,” the group’s cover of the Valentinos’ “Lookin’ For A Love” and the country-flavored “Cry One More Time.”

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