Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

21 August 2002

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO


Red Rocks. At least once a year. It's a good thing. Enough said.

Tom Petty decided to agree to a tour with Jackson Browne opening. Though their styles differ somewhat, they are both singer/songwriter/guitarists who are very much "down-to-earth". And, for both of them, what you see is what you get.

We walked into the venue barely as J. B. picked his opening notes for "(On The) Boulevard". I didn't recognize anyone else in the band, which no longer has many of those who famously appeared in early recordings of his in the 1970s, to include Russ Kunkel, Lee Sklar, and David Lindley.

Jackson Browne, now 53, doesn't look a day over 33.

More songs in Browne's set included a new tune called, "Culver City", "Doctor My Eyes", "I'm Alive", "The Pretender", and "Running On Empty", but unfortunately lacked, "In The Shape Of A Heart", "That Girl Could Sing", and "Somebody's Baby".

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers now contain four original members (up from three last year), with the amazing return of bassist Ron Blair. Ron left in 1982 under "mutual consent", and, during a 1993 interview, mentioned, not being serious, that he was taking a 20-year break while bassist Howie Epstien assumed duties. In a twist of fate, Howie had to leave this year because of personal problems, and Ron was willing, ready, and able to return to the fold in super form.

Original drummer Stan Lynch has been out of the band since 1994; Steve Ferrone has offered a completely different style, and therefore a radically different rhythm for the Heartbreakers. For the last several years, guitarist/vocalist Scott Thurston has rounded out the bunch.

The six-piece opened up with two Petty solo songs from his 1989 smash Full Moon Fever, "Running Down A Dream", and "I Won't Back Down".

Ron Blair finally got to play on songs he originally recorded for in 1979, "Here Comes My Girl", followed by "Even The Losers", but T.P. subsequently led the band into more hits off of FMF, "Runnin' Down A Dream", "A Face In The Crowd", and "Yer So Bad".

"Learning To Fly" was, by far, the most impressive track of the evening--very acoustified, very smooth, and very much lacking the Jeff Lynne rhythm that permeated Into The Great Wide Open, and many another disk in the late 1980s. (No offense Jeff).

Tom pulled out yet more solo material with "You Wreck Me" and "You Don't Know How It Feels" from Wildflowers, 1994. Also from around that time came "Mary Jane's Last Dance", prompting considerable singalong power from the second of two sold-out crowds this week.

After resurrecting some oldies, "Don't Bring Me Down", and their powerful 1978 hit, "I Need To Know", the main act pulled, out of the garbage, the goofy "Gator On The Lawn".

"Refugee" featured keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Ron Blair on backup vocals. In all, the band looked, in dress, and health, like they were back in 1982. Mike Campbell featured a thin FBI tie with a sport jacket, and Tom Petty, now clean-shaven for the first time in years, donned a scarf, blazer, corduroy pants, and especially long blonde hair.

"Free Fallin'", an extended "Gloria", and "American Girl" provided a pleasant encore.

Tom's got another album coming out in, supposedly, October, with yet more interesting songs, several of which he previewed this evening, including "Have Love, Will Travel". He has, in my opinion, successfully classified himself with the Bob Dylans [T.P. performed "Knockin' On Heaven's Door this evening] and the Neil Youngs in the poetry field of folk-rock.

[****1/2] - Steven T.

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