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Petty's Garden concert a joyous affair

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Joan Anderman
Globe Staff / June 14, 2008

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers rocked a sold-out Garden to the rafters last night without a whiff of U2’s pomp, Stonesian swagger, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ raw energy — just first-class, meat-and-potatoes anthems from one of the finest live bands in America.

Petty must have played these songs a thousand times, and he always manages to bring fresh verve to his well-trod catalog.

It helps to have the Heartbreakers, trusty sidemen who redefine the notion of well-oiled. And it goes a long way to be a gracious human being who conveys genuine gratitude for his band and his fans at every turn.

Petty’s concerts are joyous affairs hosted by a frontman who seems to revel right along with the audience.

All the crack players and good will in the world are nothing without the tunes, though, and anyone over 30 with a radio knows that Petty has got that covered. It was actually surprising to be reminded how many quality hits the man has turned out over the years.

They materialized in breathless stretches: ‘‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’’ led to ‘‘I Won’t Back Down,’’ which fed into ‘‘Even the Losers’’ and ‘‘Free Fallin’.’’

Intuitive shifts were built into Petty’s thoughtfully paced set: the cavalcade of singles was followed by a sinewy pair of blues — ‘‘Honey Bee’’ and ‘‘Sweet William’’ (released on a German EP) — and then the Traveling Wilburys’ thigh-slapper, ‘‘End of the Line.’’ That earthy trio set the mood for a guest appearance by opener Steve Winwood on two of his most iconic songs: Blind Faith’s ‘‘Can’t Find My Way Home’’ and the Spencer Davis Group’s ‘‘Gimme Some Lovin’.’’

Petty then burrowed into his own nods to the psychedelic glory years with jam-flecked versions of ‘‘Saving Grace’’ and ‘‘A Face in the Crowd.’’

It was time for another trip to the top of the charts as Petty — in full, glorious whine — was joined by an arena-sized choir for ‘‘The Waiting,’’ ‘‘Learning To Fly,’’ ‘‘Don’t Come Around Here No More,’’ and ‘‘Refugee.’’ The effect was something like 15,000 rock fans rolling down their car windows, cranking the volume, and singing at the top of their lungs. Even for the most jaded concertgoer in the room, it was a total rush.

Steve Winwood, who played a polite, pristine set at Berklee last month, roughed up the edges last night during a program that spanned the sturdy songs from his new ‘‘Nine Lives’’ album as well as a handful of historical gems including ‘‘Dear Mr. Fantasy’’ and ‘‘Had to Cry Today.’’

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