Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers rocked a sold-out Garden to the rafters last night without a whiff of U2s 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.
Pettys 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 Janes Last Dance led to I Wont Back Down, which fed into Even the Losers and Free Fallin.
Intuitive shifts were built into Pettys 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 Faiths Cant Find My Way Home and the Spencer Davis Groups 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, Dont 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.