Maybe he should change the moniker to Tom Petty and the Matchmakers. Because when it comes to cross-generational marketing in concert, Petty is a master.
In the 1980s, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers toured with Bob Dylan. In the '00s, as opening acts, he has featured Jackson Browne, Pearl Jam and now Steve Winwood, who joined him Wednesday at sold-out Target Center.
A terrific live band
Petty's audience has gotten younger, with a noticeable contingent of teens and 20-somethings among the usual throng of baby-boomers and Gen-Xers in Minneapolis. The multi-generational diversity may be because Petty's hits have been a staple on classic-rock radio since the 1970s and because Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers have transformed themselves into a terrific live band.
For three decades, Petty, now 57, carried a reputation as a laid-back concert performer. Not anymore. He was as sharp, focused and enthusiastic Wednesday as he was at his two memorable 2006 concerts in St. Paul. This show may have been even better -- unqualified consistency, a crowd-thrilling set list with a few surprises and a way-cool light show, featuring giant cubes (streaming live video of the band) hanging like ornaments on a needleless Christmas tree made of scaffolding.
Even though Petty was playing mostly familiar mid-tempo radio hits, the music had more immediacy, oomph and impact live. Some of the credit goes to crisp, propulsive drummer Steve Ferrone, who signed on in 1994. And a great deal goes to eternally underrated guitarist Mike Campbell ("the co-captain," as Petty introduced him), who was eloquently expressive, remarkably versatile and just downright exciting.
The Heartbreakers got revved up on the lesser known "Saving Grace" (written for the film "Elizabethtown"). A rare uptempo addition to the repertoire, it shifted from a Bo Diddley to a John Lee Hooker beat as Campbell and Petty soared separately on guitars and then jammed.
While that was a crowd- pleaser, the 15,000 totally amped fans sang along loudly to the softer "Free Fallin'" and "Learning to Fly." Other highlights were the delightfully dramatic "Breakdown," the charging "Running Down a Dream," the scorching "Refugee," the Traveling Wilburys' galloping "End of the Line," the foot-stomping, playfully Dylanesque "Gloria" and the joyously jangly closer, "American Girl."
The only disappointment with Petty's 110-minute set was that Winwood, 60, whose favorites from the '60s, '70s and '80s thrilled the crowd, did not perform with him and the Heartbreakers, as has been the case on several other concerts on this summer's tour. That would have been perfect cross-generational harmony.
For a set list and fan comments, go to www.startribune.com/poplife
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719