Free Fallin' Fun
All good things — like Tom Petty (and ZZ Top) — come to those who wait
Good things come to those who wait, especially if you love Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
Houston-area Petty fans had to sit on their hands a long time for their hero and his band to return to the Houston area. The show was originally suppose to happen in May, but the band got a better offer — a guest spot on Saturday Night Live — pushing the date back another four months. But after Friday night's boogie-blues to hard-rockin' guitar stomp through the bands catalog... all is forgiven.
Petty and the Heartbreakers broke off a 17-song, two hour set that included everything from early hits like "Refugee" to generous sampling of the band's new album, Mojo. Past favorites spilled from band's strings, keys and skins all night, but every song took on the characteristics of the swampy bursts of guitar experimentation that are the signature of the Mojo sound.
The Heartbreakers — guitarist Mike Campbell and Scott Thurston, keyboardist Benmont Tench, drumer Steve Ferrone and original bassist Ron Blair (who was welcomed back to the ensemble for the first time since 1982) — were not merely the supporting cast at this Petty show. More than many in recent memory, this was a group effort and unusually animated and energetic Petty seemed completely at ease sharing the spotlight with his longtime mates.
After warming up the crowd with the mid-tempo sway of "Listen to Her Heart," Petty eased the group into the gentle soft rock trio of late-80s/early 90s favorites including "You Don't Know How It Feels," "I Won't Back Down," and "Free Fallin'."
It was all a ruse to lull the crowd into the false notion that this was going to be some sort easy rockin', hand-holdin' night of nostalgia.
A strong power chord from Campbell and an unlikely fast-talking oratory sermon by Petty opened a surprising rapturous cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well," a little known song from Mac's pre Buckingham-Nicks British Blues roots.
Such an esoteric and full-flavored cover was notice from the band that said, "This is where were going tonight. Hope you enjoy the ride."
From there Petty led the band through sing-along of of "Mary Jane's Last Dance," an elongated, beautifully sweaty and soulful version of "Breakdown" (my personal favorite highlight of the night) and a hypnotic, Middle-Eastern inspired burn on "Don't Come Around Here No More."
In between the hits was a four-song set from new album Mojo.
It 's probably fair to say that Mojo will not be remembered for its hit singles in the future, but there may be not better album to hear the Heartbreakers play live in the band' entire 34-year catalog. "Jefferson Jericho Blues," and "Running Man's Bible" in particular straddle the line between gospel and the gut-bucket blues and feature guitarist Campbll and Petty teaming up for some of the most impressive vamps ever seen performed by the band.
The near-catharsis almost made one forget about one rock n' roll's best encore songs ever, "American Girl." When the familiar early rock jangle began, the Woodlands Pavilion collectively jumped on last time before going home happy that they waited patiently for this show.
Bonus points with ZZ Top appearance
Petty and the Heartbreakers may have been the headliners, but special guests ZZ Top set the blues bar pretty high to open the night.
The bearded trio's name may not have been at the top of the marquee, but when Billy Gibbon, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard (he's the drummer with no whiskers) take the stage anywhere near their hometown of Houston they are always greeted as the main event.
The sold out amphitheater crowd came early to groove along to a 12-song set and even a few surprises.
Twelve-bar blues-based radio standards from the group's early 70s beginnings like "LaGrange" and "Tush" were paired with the mid-80s MTV hits "Legs" "Sharp Dressed Man" and "Got Me Under Pressure. " Die-hards looking for the trio to dig a little deeper into the ZZ Top songbook, were rewarded with a non-single double-shot of classic jams from 1973's Tres Hombres album: "Waiting For the Bus" and "Jesus Just Left Chicago." It was followed by a scorching cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe" that fans can only hope was recorded for release for a future live album.