I recently saw Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at the Riverbend Music Center outside Cincinnati. The opening act was Steve Winwood, a man I’ve wanted to see since 1994. That’s when I missed out on seeing him open for the Grateful Dead as a member of Traffic. His opening set at Riverbend was very impressive. He’s 60 years old, but still sounds like he did as a teen in the Spencer Davis Group. The highlight of his set (and the entire night) was hearing him sing one of my favorite songs, “Can’t Find My Way Home”. Hearing the old Blind Faith song was one of the highlights of my entire concert-going career. He also played classics like “I’m a Man”, “Higher Love”, “Dear Mr. Fantasy”, “Gimme Some Lovin'” and a few songs from his latest release, Nine Lives. It rained from about the sixth song on, but stopped before Tom Petty took the stage.
The vast majority of the Tom Petty concert was fantastic. The first six songs were incredible. Unfortunately, he then fell into a three song rut. I could write about all the highlights of the night, but that would take too long, so I have decided to write about these three “lowlights” instead. These songs should be dropped from the setlist right now in favor of “The Waiting”, “Walls”, or just about anything off Wildflowers. Here are the three low points of the concert:
- “Sweet William” – This song is an old b-side from a single that’s long out-of-print. Well, there’s a reason it was originally dumped onto a b-side, and there’s a reason it’s remained out-of-print. The reason is this: it’s just not a very good song. It features 2 minutes of lame, white-boy blues followed by 30 seconds of guitar rave-up. Then there was some more lame white-boy blues and a bit more guitar rave-up. The rave-ups were great, but the bluesy parts were incredibly boring. It might be fun for the band to perform, but I found listening to be a chore.
- “End of the Line” – This was one of my favorite songs by the Traveling Wilburys, so I was initially very excited to hear it. I soon came to the conclusion that part of the song’s greatness was that the original featured lead vocals by George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison (in addition to Tom Petty). The Heartbreakers tried to fill in for the missing Wilburys, but the results fell flat. Oh well.
- “Breakdown” – After a brief break for the band introduction, Tom Petty broke into a version of “Breakdown”. It’s normally a good song, but this version was too long and boring. I think there was supposed to be a jam in there, but it just sounded like lazy playing to my ear. Zzzzzzz.
Right when I was beginning to lose interest, things started up again with “Saving Grace”, the lead track off 2006’s Highway Companion album. The song featured a bit of an extended jam at the end, but unlike the one that ruined “Breakdown”, this one was actually interesting. “Honey Bee” came next. It’s an incredibly goofy song, but it managed to work. Those two songs helped me regain my interest in the concert. The rest of the show was solid and featured a non-stop run of hits that included “You Don’t Know How It Feels”, “Refugee”, “Runnin’ Down a Dream”, and “American Girl”. These songs more than made up for the few missteps from earlier in the evening.
Here’s the setlist written out for those of you who are interested in such things. As you can see, “A Face in the Crowd” was not played. There are some websites out there reporting that it was. Those websites are written by idiots who were probably drunk at the show.
Main set: You Wreck Me/Listen to Her Heart/I Won’t Back Down/Even the Losers/Free Fallin’/Mary Jane’s Last Dance/Sweet William/End of the Line/(band intros)/Breakdown/Saving Grace/Honey Bee/You Don’t Know How It Feels/Learning to Fly/Don’t Come Around Here No More/Refugee
Encore: Runnin’ Down a Dream/Mystic Eyes/American Girl