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"
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"
15. "Runnin' Down A Dream"
16. "American Girl"
Photo: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Credit: Sam Jones