“I hope he does this every year, like the Allmans,” said one of the two fans rocking out in front of me toward the end of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ triumphant show Tuesday night (May 21) at New York City’s Beacon Theater, referring to the Allman Brothers Band’s yearly residency there.
Everyone within earshot nodded in agreement.
The show, the second night of a five-night run at the 2,894-capacity, 74-year-old theater on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, was relaxed but intense, with the band fluidly delivering one scorcher after another with peerless sound and trademark guitar interplay.
While hardly a greatest-hits set, the set list, which paired classics such as "Wildflowers" and "Woman In Love" with vintage album cuts "When a Kid Goes Bad" and "When the Time Comes," covers like "Green Onions" and "I Just Want to Make Love to You," and the live debut of the Traveling Wilburys’ "Tweeter and the Monkey Man," allowed the band to stretch out on deep cuts that left the faithful feeling as though they’d seen a truly special show.
And they had.
Looking and sounding half of his 62 years, Petty led the Heartbreakers for two solid hours through the kind of show that fans of the band might put together on a playlist for a long drive. After an opening salvo of "Rock’n’Roll Star," "Love Is a Long Road" and "Here Comes My Girl," the band settled in for a remarkable night of musicianly magic.
Much like the fabled 1990s Fillmore West residency that Petty fans have traded on bootlegs over the years, the concert showed how strong the Heartbreakers are as a unit, with Petty and lead guitarist Mike Campbell, along with keyboardist Benmont Tench, pushing the band effortlessly forward even on songs that had the tentative but refreshing feel of having only been rehearsed a handful of times.
A stripped-down "Rebels" was a highlight, as was the one-two-three punch of "Crawling Back to You," "Friend of the Devil" and "It’s Good to Be King." By the time the band hit the final stretch with "I Should Have Known It," "Refugee" and "Running Down a Dream," the crowd, which had been on its feet throughout the night, was clamoring for more.
Obliging with an encore of "Listen To Her Heart" and "American Girl," Petty closed with a sincere thanks from the stage and disappeared into the New York night. The talk on the way out of the theater among the crowd was mostly about how to score tickets for the remaining three shows of Petty’s Beacon visit.
Jeff Slate is a NYC-based solo singer-songwriter and music journalist. He founded and fronted the band the Badge for 15 years beginning in 1997 and has worked with Pete Townshend, Earl Slick, Carlos Alomar, Steve Holley, Laurence Juber and countless others. He has interviewed and written about everyone from the Beatles and Kiss to Monty Python and rock musicals on Broadway. He is an avid collector of rock and roll books and bootlegs and has an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Dylan and the Beatles.