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Live review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at the Hollywood Bowl


Tom Petty's 2010 album "Mojo"
is a relatively intimate affair. It's comfortable, but not in a way that's predictable; more the sound of a veteran act in complete sync with each band member's moves. The Hollywood Bowl, despite its refined acoustics, rich history and clear sight-lines, is not, however, an intimate venue. 

Petty and the Heartbreakers neatly packaged the "Mojo" songs mid-set, a brief bluesy diversion amid an evening of some of the most durable greatest hits around. Though only four songs from "Mojo" made their way to a sold-out Hollywood Bowl on Friday evening, they were the moments that gave the Heartbreakers -- 30-plus-year soldiers of tidy, roots-tinged American pop -- the most space to roam.

Scott Thurston's harmonica stabbed the beat of "Jefferson Jericho Blues," moving at too hectic a pace to even hit on a melody, while "Running Man's Bible" didn't build so much as simmer, offering Benmont Tench's keyboard time to smolder.

Think of it as a an arena-rock mood-setter rather than singalong crowd-pleaser. Perhaps that's why the new songs were accompanied with a smattering of lasers pointing off toward Hollywood Boulevard, an adornment for songs that needed none, and a plea for an audience -- one that seemed slightly impatient that the Heartbreakers dug up the spry 1991 cut "King's Highway" -- to stay seated. 

When Petty and the Heartbreakers hit the coda of "I Should Have Known It," they locked into a bluesy howl. There was no extended jam here. Instead, drummer Steve Ferrone seemed to be offering a challenge, taunting Mike Campbell to keep pace. The ace sideman was more than capable of accepting, and his guitar sounded as if it was drawing skid lines in the dirt, and then suddenly jolting direction and leaving behind a trail of dust. 

The "Mojo" songs aren't this gritty on record, and they lack the chorus, the jangle and the communal feel of much of the band's catalog. It's an album that can divide fans and critics alike, but it's definitely not the sound of a band phoning it in. "Here's one to glory and survival and staying alive," Petty sang in "Running's Man's Bible," admiring the groove rather than offering a toast.

Yet the crowd, one that paid upward of $60, not including multiple surcharges, for even nosebleed seats, wasn't going to be content to sit back and simply watch a band of pros do its thing. No doubt Petty and the Heartbreakers know the compromise such a venue requires, and ZZ Top had already entertained with a precision-sharp rundown of its hits.

The Hollywood Bowl appearance came near the end of the band's North American tour -- the act performs in Irvine on Saturday night (Oct. 2) -- and anyone who peeked at earlier set lists would have spoiled the evening. Few, if any, surprises abounded, and long-lost deep album cuts weren't resurrected for the band's adopted hometown crowd. Yet Petty's catalog is full of unassuming hits -- honest, conversational songs about relationships, perseverance and simply surviving the American dream -- and it would be hard to argue that they don't deserve the largest stage possible.

The songs of the Heartbreakers don't call attention to themselves, and the band doesn't fill its sets with hokey shtick.  The Heartbreakers are a workingman's band, and one with no room for fuss, be it Campbell's overdrive guitar of "Runnin' Down a Dream" or Petty's woozy, desperate vocal pleading of "Breakdown."

So as long as the band is releasing albums such as "Mojo," ones that despite their faults don't look back, the band could be forgiven, perhaps, for indulging in concert. "That's gonna have to be good enough," Petty sang with a quivering drawl over a near-hypnotic roadhouse crest emanating from Campbell on "Good Enough." And for now at least, it is. 

-- Todd Martens

Here is the set list from the Bowl appearance:

1. "Listen To Her Heart"
2. "You Don't Know How It Feels"
3. "I Won't Back Down"
4. "Free Fallin'"
5. "Oh Well" (Fleetwood Mac cover)
6. "Mary Jane's Last Dance"
7. "King's Highway" 
8. "Breakdown"
9. "Jefferson Jericho Blues"
10. "Good Enough"
11. "Running' Man's Bible"
12. "I Should Have Known It"
13.  "Learning to Fly"
13. "Don't Come Around Here No More"
14. "Refugee"


15. "Runnin' Down A Dream"
16. "American Girl" 

 Photo: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Credit: Sam Jones

Comments () | Archives (14)

L.A. audiences don't care about great bands pushing the envelope. I have seen so many concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, and many people chat as if they are in a bar. When I saw Sigur Ros and Dead Can Dance, the audience was pretty good. I left the Hall & Oates show a few years ago because all I could hear was the numb nuts around me.

saw TP when they were at Madison Sq. Garden in July and while I wasn't that impressed with the new songs - they fit right in beautifully. and seriously, many of the hits are bonafide classics! rock on, Mr. Petty!

I was there in one of the nose bleed seats. My first Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers experience, and more to come! I and am old enough (pushing 50) to know what is worth that 65.00 (+). The reviewer didn't mention that with each ticket came a download of MOJO, and EIGHT live tracks from the tour. Pretty generous if you do the math. It was a great show, and the power of the seasoned musicians was magical. The fingers touched the strings like butter on hot bread. And the glue of 30 years of playing together makes them solid and takes the music to another level of seamless effort. It was a FANTASTIC evening. I happen to love every single song on MOJO, and think the reviewer saw a different show than I. It was a pleasure that I would repeat, if I had the money, nose bleed or not.

great show last night however i am curious on finding out the name of a song that was played during the break before petty came on. this song was a catchy song with lyrics "i dont want to hear it, i dont want to know" is all i remember. if anyone can ID this song please let me know. thanks

The writer of this article must have been at a differant concert all together, with everybody standing and singing along with Petty....all through his set. I would say all loved the show, grooved on Petty's known tunes and heard new exected tunes. This Martens character who most likely got paid to be on stage to critize what he could never do in his meaningless lifetime, and his pennmanship compared to Petty's ia appauling. Maybe have Martens write about something more his speed, like how bottom dwellers authors like himself, can actually survive being so ignorant and writing such crap.

To Todd Martens, Yes, the four songs from Mojo were very much the most interesting section of the Petty concert -- the band demonstrated great interest in those songs and expanded the album versions very passionately. The problem with the concert was the complete emphasis on the early songs -- Petty and the band performed almost the entire greatest hits album -- eleven hit songs from the late 70s and 80s. Aside from those eleven and the four from the new record, there were only two other songs: Kings Highway and Oh Well. Where were all the wonderful songs from the great albums of 1994 to 2003: Wildflowers, She's The One, Echo and The Last DJ -- albums that contain some of the most mature, complex, interesting, soulful and beautifully melodic music of Petty's entire career. Not a single song from those four records. Instead another recitation of the entire Greatest Hits catalog which all of us have heard at every Petty concert since 1985. What was the band thinking? That'll be the last Heartbreakers concert for me.

Bob Young

I wholeheartedly concur with Roger re: L.A. audiences talking through nearly every show. I paid more than $40 a ticket to see Depeche Mode last year and the women behind me were talking about furniture imports. Seriously. Maybe $40 isn't a lot for some attendees but it is for me!

And also at Roger, I am so, so sick with jealousy over Dead Can Dance. Never seen them. Maybe they'll reunite just one more time? ;)

Was at Verizon last night. Enjoyed the show, Tom and the band didn't disappoint, although at moments it felt like Tom Petty karaoke night, but hey, we paid a pretty price for those tickets, so sing away, right?

I must say, for such an 'old' crowd, I've never seen a ruder bunch of fifty year olds. Can't sit still, can't keep their beer to themselves, (spillers) and think that it's like a ballpark, and you can sit where you feel like, instead of the seat on your ticket. Didn't expect that kind of crowd in Irvine.

I thought he was over playing "hits" shows. Maybe he thought the Hollywood crowd wasn't that interested in non-hits. Maybe they were just pooped and wanted to get to their nearby homes after a long tour. They are human. They are the best "real" band out there. Long live Petty and the H. breakers!

To George:
Possibly "I Don't Want To Hear It" by Hidden In Plain View.
("Sorry" by Madonna also has those lines, but unlikely played at a Petty concert.)

Great show, terrible crowd management at what used to be one of the greatest venues in the world. Very dangerous and near stampede conditions at the upper levels vendor and restroom bottle neck thorough fares. No crowd control in sight. Only luck and calm heads prevented a near tragedy. LA Times should take a look into what's going on. Unless I win tickets within the first ten rows, my Bowl days are done.

I was at the Bowl for Tom Petty in a fabulous Garden Box Seat surrounded by happy friendly people!

The weather was perfect and the night could not have been more special!!

Tom was amazing and worth every dollar and the wait!


Hi Bob,

Very well said. I, too, found it odd that all the recent Heartbreakers albums were completely ignored. Both "Echo" and "The Last DJ" have plenty that could have been explored, and Petty has been clear about the band not turning into a "jukebox." I was hoping that the post-Super Bowl tour would have gotten the straight greatest hits set out of the band's system, and the more reflective tone on the new album would inspire a deeper look at the band's catalog.

Nevertheless, Petty & the Heartbreakers are still one of the more dependable acts around, and watching the band interact still proves to be a treat. Overall, it was a positive experience, and I'm sorry the above review seems to have upset Michael so.


I am a huge Tom Petty fan--have the albums, the box sets, and I've seen him several times. There is no doubt that he is a charismatic performer who knows how to please an audience and a band that can play the hell out of their instruments. Having said that though, the Band came out at approximately 9:20, the concert was over at 10:45--including encore. I'm sorry, but when you're charging upwards of $300 a ticket (high end) to a show, plus $40 for T-shirts, not to mention what it costs your fans for food and parking, you need to do better than play for less than 90 minutes. For the record, I didn't pay $300--someone did though. I paid less, but none of us bought a "cheap" ticket. Yes, I got a free download of "Mojo"--but I paid for a concert. Too many times, reviewers and fans let artists off the hook for this kind of thing because we love them so much. I am a BIG Tom Petty fan, but these days, this economy, if you're going to charge me what you're charging me, you need to be on stage. I don't expect a marathon, but I think I should expect an artist like Petty, who has the experience and THE CATALOG, to play a longer show that lasts longer that 1 hour 25, including encore. One encore. Take a look at that setlist--16 songs. THAT'S IT. And one was a cover. Play the whole "Mojo" album---it's OK with me, but give me something more than you gave me. I spent as much time in my car driving to and from the show. We invest our money and time in an artist. We should expect some investment in return, at least our money's worth. Tom, you couldn't go another 25 minutes?


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