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TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS/ZZ Top
Bowl, Los Angeles 1 October 2010
Of the diminishing number of currently active bands I have never
seen, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were high on my wish list, and my
appetite in recent months had only been whetted further by their recent
live CD box set and 4 hour documentary on BBC4.
I jumped at the opportunity to break this duck in style by seeing them
play the Hollywood Bowl. Especially on a beautiful California autumn
night such as this, the Bowl is a marvellous 18,000 seat open air
amphitheatre carved into the hills above downtown Hollywood- although
the less said about the bumper to bumper parking lots the better!
As a brucie bonus, the Heartbreakers were supported by ZZ Top,
headline material in their own right. Indeed having seen them do so at
both Wembley and High Voltage in the last 12 months I was a little
jaded, knowing exactly what they were going to play and their little
jokes such as Billy Gibbons' scantily clad 'blues hat' roadies.
The Reverend Billy G, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard got into their
effortless swampy groove, with Billy's bluesy solos a delight, but his
voice, both while speaking and singing, sounded horribly croaky and did
somewhat spoil my enjoyment. For a support act, a set time of over an
hour was generous, but still meant this was a truncated 'greatest hits'
type set, with a cover of Hey Joe perhaps the only surprise.
Billy's solo during I Need You Tonight and great slide guitar of Just
Got Paid were highlights, while as at every show since time immoral they
closed with the trio of glossy hits from Eliminator and encored with
drawn out versions of La Grange and Tush. They seemed to go down well
but failed to really entice an audience mainly of Tom Petty fans out of
year, the Heartbreakers play to venues this size in America and
know exactly how to put on the big arena show. Yet they do so in a
low key and seemingly effortless style, without gimmicks, trademarks or
stage spectaculars. Even the instantly recognisable Tom Petty is
generally happy to let his magnetism speak for itself rather than break
up the flow of a show with chatter between songs or audience
However their great strength is the way they seamlessly work together as
a unit with individual band members allowed to flourish, but all within
the band's distinctive groove. Indeed, the overall quality of the
ensemble playing probably rivalled the E Street Band for sheer
I always felt Mike Campbell was a much underrated guitar player, but was
unprepared for the way he was allowed greater scope live, regularly
stretching out into some fluid, winding solos which combined feeling
with great technical dexterity. In contrast though master organ and
keyboard player Benmont Tench, though integral to their sound, is
content to play a low key role.
I fully expected their new album Mojo (a huge improvement on its dull
predecessor, Highway Companion by the way) to form the cornerstone of
the set as it had been heavily promoted, including a free download with
every ticket purchased. However, it was an hour before they played any
of it; instead, opening with Listen to Your Heart, we got a cavalcade of
the greatest hits.
Highlights were numerous but included Mike's slide guitar on I won't
Back Down, a slow burning Free Fallin', and a cover of Oh Well with a
series of fiery solos from Mike. But perhaps the best moments were the
'team efforts' - Mary Jane's Last Dance saw some great collective work
with a harmonica solo from the versatile Scott Thurston, leading to
guitar solos from both Mike and Tom, while having locked into a steady
groove for Breakdown they then brought the tempo down to a virtual
Finally we got four new songs, to be digested all in one sitting. To be
frank, I had only really been familiarising myself with new material on
the flight out, but the results were highly impressive: the discordant,
almost garage-y Jefferson Jericho Blues, the slower blues of Good Enough
with a brilliant solo from Mike, Running Man's Bible, where they again
locked into the groove, and the unexpectedly heavy riffing of I Should
Have Known It.
Returning to the tried and tested, Tom largely played Learning to Fly
acoustically, while Don't Come Around Here no More, never usually my
favourite had so much going on; from its military beat and Scott singing
some of the verses, to the way they dropped the temp in the middle, only
to build up and finish the song in an increasing frenzy.
It was hard
to top that, but Refugee, with Benmont's trademark organ on the intro
and another great extended solo from Mike, came close.
With a Friday night crowd belatedly in the party spirit, they encored
with Runnin Down a Dream , with the band again jamming out, and, of
course, American Girl which had all 18,000 singing along.
My only complaint was that, with the amount of material in their career,
an hour and three quarters long set was a little on the short side,
while if I were more of a Petty diehard, I would have been frustrated by
the lack of more obscure material.
Nevertheless, it was a gig to remember - a great setting to witness one
of America's classic bands, and one whose live shows, on this evidence,
take the songs you know and love on the records into quite a new
photos by Andy Nathan
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