May 07, 2017

Review: In Tampa, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers do the career retrospective thing on their 40th anniversary tour at Amalie Arena

Good, not great.

That’s what Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were Saturday night at Amalie Arena. I’ve seen the band lots, maybe 10, 11 times, and more often than not they’ve been great. But Petty and his five-piece band — along with two female backup singers imported from London — never quite flipped that elusive switch that could’ve transformed their two-hour-plus set into something truly inspired.

Why, you ask? That’s difficult to pinpoint and, at risk of stating the obvious, it’s one person’s opinion (probably 90 percent of the capacity crowd thought the show was beyond great).

But it’s my job, so let’s take a stab at it. This was Petty and company’s 40th anniversary tour and, in keeping, they delivered a full career retrospective. To put a fine point on it, they opened with “Rockin’ Around (With You),” the band’s first song from its first album (released in 1976, but let’s not sweat the arithmetic). The handful of early Petty adopters in the audience probably loved the choice, but it made for an underwhelming kickoff.

After the opener, the concert’s early stages went heavy on mid-tempo material — in sequence: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “You Don’t Know How it Feels,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’” and “Walls”. Good to great songs all, but at this point the set was in serious need of a fist-pumper, a jolt of adrenaline. Sandwiched in this sequence was “Forgotten Man” from the band’s latest album Hypnotic Eye. It is, in fact, a fast, churning rocker, but the song’s obscurity had fans scurrying up the aisles towards the restrooms and beer stations.

It hardly needs to be said that this veteran group of fine musicians played the material with precision and aplomb. In all, though, they lacked a sense of abandon. The woman singers added a fullness to the vocals, but also had the effect of rounding the sound’s edges.  

The concert proceeded … with more medium-tempo material — like “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” Usually a showstopper, it managed to up the intensity a notch or two. Then on it was to a mini-set from the Wildflowers album. (Petty clearly has fond memories, because five of the show’s 19 selections came from that 1994 solo effort.) As they played a jam-stuffed version of “It’s Good to be King,” then “Crawling Back to You” and “Wildflowers,” the concert verged on laborious.

They finished strong. After “Learning to Fly” brought matters to tantalizing simmer, “Yer So Bad,” “Refugee” (the only song from Damn the Torpedoes) and “Runnin’ Down a Dream” reached a medium boil. We finally had us a rock ‘n’ roll show. (Kudos for inserting the Zeppelin-esque “I Should Have Known It” from the underrated Mojo album.) But it didn’t last much longer. “You Wreck Me” and “American Girl” made for a rather perfunctory encore.

No sequence in Petty’s set delivered the sheer fun and elation that opener Joe Walsh did with his closing troika of tunes: “Funk #49,” “Life’s Been Good” (one of the funniest songs in rock annals) and “Rocky Mountain Way.” But give Petty credit. He does not quiver at the thought of being upstaged by his opening act (which he wasn’t), but rather brings in top-notch talent to provide his fans with value. When an opening act with the rep of Joe Walsh plays an hour-plus set with impeccable sound and dazzling lights, and has four background singers augmenting his band, well, no one’s skimping.

See more of Chris Rodriguez's photos from the show below.

Some cautionary thoughts on ingress.

One of the reasons I may not have not fully engaged with Petty’s show was fatigue. After picking up my tickets at will call, I rounded the corner to head into the venue and was greeted by a throng of people longer than a football field and probably 50 yards wide. The Kafka-esque slog through security and ticket-takers took us around 40 minutes. When we arrived at our seats, Walsh was well into his set.

I had never before encountered something so soul crushing at Amalie Arena. Changes need to be made. More entry points, streamlined security, better signage, something. I don’t know if this zombie march was an aberration — I hope so — but the Petty crowd consisted mostly of baby boomers peacefully grousing as they trudged forward. Amalie has a packed slate of shows in the coming months, with crowds that might not be so patient. Whether it’s renewed, Trump-fueled fears of violence and terrorism, a crackdown on contraband drugs and alcohol, or something other, the would-be cure of increased security could actually cause the crisis it’s supposed to prevent.

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Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers play Amalie Arena in Tampa on May 6, 2017.
Chris Rodriguez
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers play Amalie Arena in Tampa on May 6, 2017.
Joe Walsh plays Amalie Arena in Tampa on May 6, 2017.
Chris Rodriguez
Joe Walsh plays Amalie Arena in Tampa on May 6, 2017.
Joe Walsh plays Amalie Arena in Tampa on May 6, 2017.
Chris Rodriguez
Joe Walsh plays Amalie Arena in Tampa on May 6, 2017.
Joe Walsh plays Amalie Arena in Tampa on May 6, 2017.
Chris Rodriguez
Joe Walsh plays Amalie Arena in Tampa on May 6, 2017.
Joe Walsh plays Amalie Arena in Tampa on May 6, 2017.
Chris Rodriguez
Joe Walsh plays Amalie Arena in Tampa on May 6, 2017.

Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

At a time when local-based reporting is critical, support from our readers is essential to our future.