Petty presents all-American rock ‘n’ roll at its finest

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Photo by Andy Argyrakis
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For the first time in its 60 million album selling career that dates back to 1976, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers landed at the top of the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart with the extraordinary, return-to-form project “Hypnotic Eye” (Reprise Records). Not only does it recall the group’s earliest origins of tightly wound, frenetic rock n’ roll, but it’s an authentic breath of fresh air that’s rising above the rest during an era of increased disposability and blatant commercialism.

…a simple scan of two hour set list showed the 63-year-old blowing the cobwebs off some truly deserving album tracks in between the regularly scheduled programming, looking like he was having a lot more fun playing “Yer So Bad” than “Free Fallin'” for the billionth time.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Photo by Andy Argyrakis

Perhaps much of Petty and company’s longevity can be credited to always marching to their own drum, which continued to manifest itself on stage at yet another sold out United Center performance as the best of the current collection intersected with chestnuts from yesteryear that went far beyond the most obvious. Kicking off with a jangly jam through The Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” established the tone for the group’s own harmonica-doused oldie “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and the retro rock revivalism of the “American Dream Plan B,” which could’ve easily been recorded at any point in the Heartbreakers’ tenure thus far.

No matter the tune or the era from which it came, Petty and his cohorts sounded nothing short of timeless, cranking through the jittery “Forgotten Man,” the sturdy pop of “I Won’t Back Down,” the sweltering “A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me)” and the southern-stamped “Rebels.” Indeed, a simple scan of two hour set list showed the 63-year-old blowing the cobwebs off some truly deserving album tracks in between the regularly scheduled programming, looking like he was having a lot more fun playing “Yer So Bad” than “Free Fallin'” for the billionth time.

A little later, the bluesy new cut “I Should Have Known It” helped loosen up the band for more spontaneous treatments of staples like “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” while the encore also keyed into aggressive anthems like “You Wreck Me” and “American Girl.” In fact, everything during that home stretch seemed stocked with some extra adrenaline that can only come from an adoring, all-ages audience, who after nearly four decades of support, still scored the privilege of seeing the band at the top of its game.