Denver: Score one for the geezers

To Wilson and the other young folk, Petty is a rock icon. Petty knows this, serving up a blue-plate special of his greatest hits. But then, as is his custom, he throws a couple of curve balls – some odd covers, a Traveling Wilburys tune (a sublime “End of the Line”) old album  tracks and a guest star, Steve Winwood.

It’s pretty much the standard show, and the set list varies microscopically from Petty and Winwood’s visit to Tampa last week. When Petty introduces Winwood to the crowd, they cheer because they figure any friend of Tom’s is a friend of theirs. But Winwood, who has taken long hiatuses from performing during his career, is largely unknown to these folks. He plays crisp guitar on “Can’t Find My Way Home,” then moves to the organ and, with Benmont Tench bumping asses with him on the keyboard bench, gives a wonderfully frenetic and demented performance of “Gimme Some Lovin’.” As they proved when they toured with Bob Dylan back in the 1980s, the Heartbreakers are an incredible backing band.

But poor old Tom can’t win. He has perhaps the best pure rock’n’roll band in America. They put on a tight, well-rehearsed, crowd-pleasing show every night, and still the critics carp about it. Tonight, he tries stretching out some songs, does and encore (”Mystic Eyes”), in which Bo Diddley symbolically has sex with Van Morrison, and takes long, daring breaks with the pacing after a barrage of crowd-pleasing hits.

To those critics, I offer a chorus of raspberries and a symphony of guffaws. Tom Petty is a great entertainer and though tight and well-rehearsed, there’s nothing sterile about the show. This band plays with joy, with a deep love of rock’n’roll history – and for its audience. What’s not to love?

Ask Wilson. The kid is worshipping at the altar of Petty now, and at one point even turns to me and asks me to be his rock’n’roll history mentor. Yes, Grasshopper. I’ll be glad to.

Acres of kids here today. Some of the best young performers in modern music. But at the end of the night – and I’m sitting by the campfire outside the tent where several of those young artists are jamming — I’ve gotta score this day for the geezers. Tom Petty and the rest of his AARP band kicked much ass on stage tonight and showed that there’s something about that generation of musicians that still resonates with the young folks. To steal a line from one of Petty’s own songs, he’s got a heart so big it could crush this town.

— William McKeen

Libation report: I stopped hours ago, like a good citizen. However, the couple next to me produced an astonishing and pungent aroma and perhaps I am feeling its effects.

Young Wilson is a local rock journalist who appears to be 14 but has been out of college for two years already. Kid, I got socks older than you.

We ran into him in the parking lot and he has been our entertaining, helpful (two words: beer runs) and energetic Sancho Panza for the day. At the end of the evening, he and I end up side-by-side on a hillside as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers take the stage.

No doubt Wilson — connected young music junkie that he is — can quote chapter and verse on so many of the bands here that I can even pretend to have heard of. But now, he’s ready for what he readily admits is the highlight of his day: a rock star even older than this dude standing next to him — me, of course.

The band opens with “You Wreck Me.” Wilson responds with whoops and claps, then turns to me and says, “Is this a new song? I don’t know it.”

You have much to learn, Grasshopper.

Scroll to read more Local Arts articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.