Forget what Gene Simmons says.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers know better.
“Rock and roll is alive,” Petty said at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night, as he introduced the band’s version of the classic “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” as an encore. “Rock and roll can set you free.”
Petty & The Heartbreakers, especially guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, revved up the energy of the song even more than the original, making it more Sex Pistols than Paul Revere & The Raiders. When followed by a slicing version of their own classic “American Girl,” there was no doubt about Petty’s intentions.
Petty & The Heartbreakers’ excellent “Hypnotic Eye” album certainly proves that Simmons’ pronouncements that “Rock is dead” are pure bunk. (So does Robert Plant’s new “Lullaby and ... The Ceaseless Roar” album, for that matter, along with countless bands in the past 20 years that the Kiss frontman has either forgotten or never heard.) Not only did new songs like “American Dream Plan B” and “Forgotten Man” fit in well with Petty’s classics, they made them sound more current. (“Into the Great Wide Open” has never sounded better than when sandwiched between those two new songs.)
What took the show to the next level, though, is the way the band set out to prove how “rock and roll will set you free.” They outlined several times how messed up American life is these days -- most dramatically in the epic “Shadow People” -- but Petty wants to offer the seeds of a solution as well.
He does it in the space of one verse in “American Dream Plan B,” all over a nice set of chugging guitar riffs to boot. “Well, my mama so sad, Daddy’s just mad, ‘cause I ain't gonna have the chance he had,” Petty opens. “My success is anybody’s guess, but like a fool, I’m bettin’ on happiness.”
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Is it naïve to believe that rock and roll can set you free? Maybe. But when it’s crafted this masterfully and delivered this well, it sure has the potential.
Take it easy, baby. Make it last all night.
SETLIST: So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star / Mary Jane's Last Dance / American Dream Plan B / Into The Great Wide Open / Forgotten Man / I Won't Back Down / Free Fallin' / A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me) / U Get Me High / Rebels / Two Gunslingers / Yer So Bad / Learning to Fly / Shadow People / I Should Have Known It / Refugee / Runnin' Down A Dream // ENCORE: You Wreck Me / (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone / American Girl