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Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers showcase their mojo with hits and deep cuts

Tom Petty looked like a happy guy at the season opener at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre Sunday night. Photo credit: Robb D. Cohen

Tom Petty looked like a happy guy at the season opener at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre Sunday night. Photo credit: Robb D. Cohen

In Tom Petty’s world, nothing is hurried.

Not the moments between songs when he would swap guitars and pause to sip from a cup on the drum riser. Not his speech pattern when he drawled, “Atlanta, Georgia, it’s good to be back,” two songs into a two-hour show. Not his storytelling, spotlighted on the ever-amusing “Spike.”

No, Petty has always taken his time. Even his Cheshire cat grin spread laconically, drawn across his newly trimmed beard, as he and the Heartbreakers pounced on the set-opening “Listen to Her Heart.”

A wordless salute from the 61-year-old Petty to the sold-out crowd at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park ushered in “You Wreck Me” and the band’s anthem of quiet defiance, “I Won’t Back Down,” filtered crisply into the venue, prompting one of several sing-alongs of the night.

Petty and his musical crusaders are in the midst of about a dozen North American dates – this Alpharetta stop launched the fifth season at Verizon – before heading to Europe for their first major tour in two decades. And the band is already in taut form.

While casual fans might grumble at a set list heavy on album tracks and lesser-known songs, such as a lengthy cover of JJ Cale’s “Travelin’ Light” that showcased Benmont Tench’s swirling organ and one of many fiery solos from guitarist Mike Campbell, those who have basked before in the Petty live experience likely appreciated the diversions.

Granted, the back-to-back bluesy stompers “Takin’ My Time” and Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” – anchored by ace drummer Steve Ferrone and bassist Ron Blair– prompted pockets of the audience to sit down. But the barely plucked opening notes of “Free Fallin’” reeled fans right back into the moment as they embraced the song in a drunken hug.

Mike Campbell might have questionable hair, but there's no arguing about his guitar skills. Photo credit: Robb D. Cohen

Mike Campbell might have questionable hair, but there's no arguing about his guitar skills. Photo credit: Robb D. Cohen

Also welcome was a soaring version of “Handle With Care,” the tremendous Traveling Wilburys song decorated with slide guitar from Campbell and harmonica from multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston, who also provided – quite well, too – the high-end Roy Orbison vocal parts of the song.

While Petty’s nasal tones become more Dylan-esque as he ages, his voice still hits pretty heights, as it did on a lovely acoustic take of “Learning to Fly” and the country-rock romp, “Yer So Bad.”

But those fans who might have zoned out during the less familiar stretches of the show snapped to attention at the memorable guitar clang and organ notes that open “Refugee.” More than 30 years after its release, the song still sounds unique, and the band played it with the verve of teenagers, Petty and Campbell criss-crossing the stage, trading guitar licks as they went, and soon afterward tossing out the zippy guitar phrases that are the foundation of “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”

So yeah, Petty might exist in his own unhurried space onstage, but his fans are happy to stroll along to wherever he leads them.

(Check out our photo gallery of Petty pics from last night’s show.)

By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene blog

Follow me on Twitter @ajclifestyle

18 comments Add your comment


April 30th, 2012
8:12 am

“Taut” (”tight” to most of us) is certainly an accurate description of Petty and the Heartbreakers’ performance last pm at Verizon. The performers displayed remarkable musicianship – these guys are not simply aging rockers out for a victory lap. They displayed real passion and dedication to their craft; a striving for excellence in their performance all too rarely seen in similar circumstances and venues. Bravo! Thoroughly enjoyable. (You are correct in remarking that a few more of Petty’s more recognizable hits sprinkled into the set would have been most welcome.)


April 30th, 2012
9:01 am

I love Tom Petty but I agree that there were too many deep cuts and not enough of the fan faves. There were so many songs that I wish he had done and he did not. All in all, it was still a good show. Next time he needs to do 60% fan faves and 40% deep cuts unlike last night. Last night it was the reverse.


April 30th, 2012
9:29 am

Note: The “bluesy” song before the “I’m a Man/Mannish Boy” rave up was “Takin My Time”. They did not perform “The Best of Everything” (a lovely ballad from SOUTHERN ACCENTS) at the Atlanta concert.

Melissa Ruggieri

April 30th, 2012
9:56 am

Thanks, Steve. It’s been fixed.


April 30th, 2012
10:40 am

I’m waiting for the show here he does 90% deep cuts. “Something Big” was the highlight for me. Can he please go deeper? Do we really need to sing along to “Free Fallin’” again? He’s been around long enough and proven himself to the point where his fans should embrace the challenge such songs as “Taking My Time” provide. “Spike” was a great surprise as was “Good Enough.” More deep cuts please!


April 30th, 2012
11:05 am

We may have sat down, but it wasn’t because we didn’t love those deep cuts… no, I sat down because it was like being at a rhythm and blues club and I just wanted to listen and sip my beer. In fact, I’d never heard most of those songs and now I want to download them all. Fan faves are great, but if you really love an artist -let them dig a little deeper at shows and show you what else they’re capable of. Plus if you see an artist over and over again -just hearing the same thing gets really old, for them and for you. I loved every moment of that show! I hope they keep going deeper.

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Couldn't make it

April 30th, 2012
12:06 pm

Anyone have the setlist?

rich whiskey

April 30th, 2012
12:09 pm

can’t beleive people actually pay good money to see these old farts play retread songs you have heard 1000 times


April 30th, 2012
1:26 pm

The set list (for “Couldn’t make it):

Listen To Her Heart
You Wreck Me
I Won’t Back Down
Here Comes My Girl
Handle With Care
Takin My Time
I’m A Man
Something Big
Cabin Down Below
Free Falling
Traveling Light (J J Cale cover)
To Find A Friend
Learning To Fly
Yer So Bad
I Should Have Known It
Good Enough
Runnin Down A Dream
Mary Jane’s Last Dance
American Girl


April 30th, 2012
5:40 pm

I have seen Tom Petty almost a dozen times and this time may have been my least favorite. I can understand how when you have been performing for 35 years you like to mix things up, but as a fan and someone who has all his albums I still prefer to hear the songs that are the most well known. I don’t mind a few obscure ones, but he only did half the songs off his greatest hits album. There was a period during the show where it really slowed to a crawl. Some people said they wish they heard more of the deeper cuts and I understand that, but if Petty wants to do that he should advertise the show as such. For the prices that were charged Sunday night and they were steep, I don’t want to hear the 8th song off of an album. I want to hear Breakdown and Don’t Come Around Here No More etc….


April 30th, 2012
6:25 pm

Amen to that Lou. If he wants to do deep cuts then don’t charge so much for tickets. We pay to hear the hits. I don’t agree with the comments that petty has earned the right to play songs that no one else cares about. As long as fans are paying you good money, deliver what they want or quit toruing!


April 30th, 2012
7:14 pm

Deep cuts, what are you guys talking about? All the songs played were great hits at one time or another, there are very few Petty songs that are mediocre regardless of where they end up on a CD/album. That’s one thing I always liked about his CDs, never a throw away song. That show was far from being deep cuts and was certainly full of the band energy. Petty just has so many great songs, he can’t come close to fitting them into one night. Its a bit snobbish, I think, that your personal favorites should be the only songs played in concert. :)


April 30th, 2012
8:18 pm

Let me vote yes to the deeper cuts. I enjoyed hearing them do some things I’ve never heard. Travelin’ Light was my highlight.

To turn the greatest hits argument on its head, did TP advertise this as a greatest hits tour? No. We got what we paid for, a setlist chosen by the band. It has to get boring for them to play the same songs over and over and maybe not doing so inspires them. Certainly seemed to.


April 30th, 2012
10:20 pm

I’ve seen TP last 5 visits to ATL – I think this show falls in the bottom 2. Not for any other reason than the fact I thought it was a weak setlist. Granted, they played many of the better known hits, but the deeper cuts didn’t need to go any deeper than “Here Comes My Girl.” What about “Jammin’ Me” or “Don’t Do Me Like That” or “Runaway Train?” Certainly lesser known “hits” that would have made the show a classic instead of kind of a dud for me. Not to mention charging $250 a pop for the better seats.


May 1st, 2012
10:15 am

We drove down from Nashville for our 6th TP & Heartbreakers show. For folks who know 2 songs from radio back in the day they would be disappointed. For folks like me, it was a great show! Go deeper, maybe play Two Gunslingers or Hell, even a Mudcrutch tune from waaay back. Anyone who thinks Petty & The Heartbreakers havn’t earned to do what they want in their show is, for lack of a better term, delusional. Great show!


May 1st, 2012
12:46 pm

My wife and I totally enjoyed the show, who cares what % he plays of hits or deep album cuts ( whatver that means !), great performer, great band, great evening.
Melissa, I find your article insulting, something I would expect in National Enquirer, your writing style is uh…offensive, a sarcastic tone reverberates, oh my my , oh hell yes !!


May 3rd, 2012
10:15 am

I think someone is over reacting a bit too much. It was an OK show. that’s really all you can say.