SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. ? A nostalgic Tom Petty quarterbacked his band into a cover of Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Not Your Steppin’ Stone,” introducing the ’60s psychedelic tune made popular by The Monkees as one Petty himself jammed on during his long-ago “garage band” days.
As Petty conversationally addressed the Saratoga Performing Arts Center crowd ? without the slightest hint of shouting or swagger ? you got the distinct impression you were witnessing one no-nonsense, down-to-earth rocker in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career.
If there is such a thing as a good-guy rock star, Petty seems to be the one.
The unpretentious vibe Petty delivered from the SPAC stage had less to do with what the 62-year-old said and how he said it in that “King of the Hill”-worthy Southern stoner monotone of his.
Absent from the stage were the HD center-stage video screens and the elaborate light flashes other legendary rock acts use to prop up their performances.
This show’s lone pyrotechnics consisted of a steady plume of smoke rising from the backstage rigging ? from origins unknown ? moments prior to the band assembling on stage. Thankfully, the fire marshal wasn’t called in to investigate.
(A Petty show earlier in the tour was cut short midway through the performance when the fire marshal there counted 100 too many ticket holders on the theater’s floor. For the record, Petty offered to personally reimburse fans for the abbreviated show.)
Instead, Petty, dreadlocked lieutenant guitarist Mike Campbell, and the rest of the Heartbreakers let their folky blues do the talking and made you feel like you were at a cozy backyard barbecue.
Like you were “the boy in the corduroy pants” or the “girl at the high school dance” ? even if you were gathered in an outdoor venue that could hold up to 25,000, thanks to a spacious general admission lawn.
“You Wreck Me,” from 1994’s “Wildflowers” album , was bookended during a three-song encore by a pair of Petty classics ? “Don’t Come Around Here” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” anthem “American Girl” to cap a 20-song, 2-hour and 10-minute show.
The encore ? songs Petty recorded between 1982 and 1994 ? was testament alone to Petty’s longevity.
Regrettably, the crowd predictably provided backing vocals for every Petty hit. The less-than-desirable karaoke accompaniment nonetheless illustrated that Petty may rival Bruce Springsteen as classic rock’s active king of the blue collar sing-a-long:
“American Girl” …
Petty also broke out a rarity he and the Heartbreakers have been playing regularly during this spring and summer tour ? “Tweeter and the Monkey Man.” It’s a song Petty co-wrote with Bob Dylan for their late ’80s and early ’90s Traveling Wilburys side project.
Coincidentally it was Dylan’s son, Jakob Dylan, who opened up for Petty Sunday night, fronting The Wallflowers with hits like “Sixth Avenue Heartache” and “One Headlight.”
Unfortunately, there were no on-stage collaborations this night ? “Friend of the Devil?” ? between Petty and Jakob Dylan.
Then again, that sounds about right.
Petty strikes you as a rock star who tries to avoid gimmicks.
Contact Michael Lester at email@example.com
Tom Petty, Saratoga Springs, N.Y. 6/23/13