Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Tom Petty isn't particularly dynamic. He isn't particularly charismatic. He isn't a particularly assertive vocalist.
So why was Saturday's concert by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers so satisfying for 16,000 fans at sold-out Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul?
Because the Heartbreakers are a first-rate band. Because Mike Campbell is a terrific guitarist. Because Petty has written and recorded so many songs that have become part of the classic-rock songbook.
People like to party — especially on a Saturday night — to favorite songs with which they can sing along. People like to hoist a beer or two and sneak a toke or two. But a Petty party is a laid-back one.
If this concert on the Heartbreakers' 40th anniversary tour were a marathon, Petty and his band were jogging for, say, the first 20 miles and then it was a sprint to the finish. Mr. Midtempo didn't decide to rock until the homestretch.
It's a good thing he occasionally passed the baton — oops, sorry for mixing my running metaphors — to Campbell during every midtempo tune. Because every one of Campbell's turns was a winner.
The 67-year-old guitarist has a wide palette. Looking a bit like Captain Jack Sparrow dressed for a gangster-themed costume party, Campbell delivered some gorgeous chiming on "Mary Jane's Last Dance," some pristine twang on "You Don't Know How It Feels" and some soaring Claptonesque purity on "It's Good To Be King."
Campbell, who seemed to have enough different instruments with him to stock a guitar shop, played elegant fills on a Mandocaster on "Learning To Fly," and he flexed his rock muscles on the laceratingly melodic "Refugee" and the blues-rock scorcher "Runnin' Down a Dream." His swampy bent blues passages on "I Should Have Known It" confirmed that he hasn't forgotten his Florida roots despite more than four decades in Los Angeles.
The mad dash of rockers ranked as the night's high points, with the standouts being the snarling "Refugee," the jangly punkish "American Girl" and the cookin' "You Wreck Me," which featured keyboardist Benmont Tench's only solo of the night and Petty's most genuine smile of the night. He was really into it.
For two hours, Petty, 66, asserted himself once again as one of the more exciting statues in rock. He was less animated than in the past (not many of those grand arm gestures or even a little shimmy) but more talkative. He gave short introductions to selections such as the night's first number, "Rockin' Around (With You)," the first track on the band's first album. But his reactions after songs seemed ingratiating and forced.
As for Petty's voice, it's still solid, though he let the crowd sing the high parts of "Free Fallin'," and he relied on the voices of the Webb Sisters, two new additions for this tour, to bolster his higher register.
The repertoire was heavy on hits but featured several songs from Petty solo albums and a few lesser known Heartbreakers tunes. Missing were some biggies, such as "Breakdown" and "The Waiting," and a longed-for jam with opening act Joe Walsh, a guitar hero in his own right.
A lovable lunatic, Walsh, 69, is a character onstage with a caricature of a voice. But he can play guitar, as he demonstrated on the moody "Turn To Stone," the James Gang's heavy rocker "Funk #49" and the gracefully expressive "Rocky Mountain Way." No two songs showcased his personality better than the self-deprecating "Ordinary Average Guy" (who bowls and takes out the garbage) and his big 1978 hit "Life's Been Good" (about driving a Maserati and living the rock-star life).