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.
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