I don’t know if you do this too, but I’ve had about 6,000 debates about who is truly the best American rock band of all time. On Wednesday night at the Schottenstein Center, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers made a pretty damn good argument in their favor.
Columbus was treated to the band’s first area stop in eleven years as part of the Heartbreakers Fortieth Anniversary Tour, rumored to be their final major run. They brought along Ohio native son Joe Walsh (of The Eagles and James Gang fame) to open the show, and his greatest hits set, ending of course with “Rocky Mountain Way” was the perfect way to prime the crowd for the night’s main course.
Petty’s crew, featuring four of the five original Heartbreakers from their 1977 lineup, kicked things off with the first song on their first album, “Rockin’ Around (With You)” and the two-hour nostalgia trip was in full gear. Launching into mega-hit “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” second assured that Petty’s deft grip would be on everyone’s steering wheel for the rest of the ride.
This band has a countless number of hits to pluck a set list from, not to mention ten times as many deep cuts that are every bit as stellar, and aiming to please 25,000 rabid fans is no easy task. But these Rock & Roll Hall of Famers could do no wrong, weaving their way through a truly career-spanning set and representing eleven different albums by night’s end.
Crowd favorites like “Free Fallin’” and a rare “You Got Lucky” came early, and unfortunately only one track from their most recent album, 2015’s phenomenal Hypnotic Eye (if anyone else has ever made a better 16th studio album, I’ve never heard it), made it’s way into the set.
Nearly half the show was dedicated to songs off 1989’s Full Moon Fever and 1994’s somewhat somber Wildflowers albums, two records credited as solo Petty efforts even though they feature major contributions from the Heartbreakers, a relatively strange choice considering this tour was meant to celebrate the full group’s forty years together but the crowd didn’t seem to notice or care. The singer performed a brief acoustic section halfway through the action to highlight some of these equally beloved tunes, but when he threw his signature Rickenbacker guitar back on and his posse rejoined the stage, the crew proved they are more than just the sum of their parts.
While there were enough giant sing-a-long choruses (“Refugee”, “Runnin’ Down A Dream”) to satiate anyone that has turned on a radio in the last forty years, the show’s best number was the Zepplin-y “I Should Have Known It” from 2010’s Mojo. Sure, not everybody knew the lyrics but goddamn if the entire arena didn’t feel drummer Steve Ferrone’s crushing groove and eternal badass Mike Campbell’s searing riffs shooting through their veins.
The Heartbreakers wrapped up with “American Girl”, arguably their signature song in an epic career filled with them, and all was right with the world. As we filed out of the arena, a friend and I listed of hit after hit after hit that the band DIDN’T play, not in an ungrateful way, just out of pure astonishment. The band could have played a second night of entirely different songs with just as many ubiquitous tracks, and here’s to hoping they come back and do just that sooner than later.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers- Schottenstein Center- June 7, 2017
1. Rockin’ Around (With You)
2. Mary Jane’s Last Dance
3. You Don’t Know How It Feels
4. Forgotten Man
5. You Got Lucky
6. I Won’t Back Down
7. Free Fallin’
9. Don’t Come Around Here No More
10. It’s Good To Be King
11. Crawling Back To You
13. Learning To Fly
14. Yer So Bad
15. I Should Have Known It
17. Runnin’ Down A Dream
18. You Wreck Me
19. American Girl
Top Ten Actual Heartbreakers Songs You Definitely Know That They Didn’t Play (Just To Reinforce How Fucking Good This Band Is)
1. Listen To Her Heart
2. Don’t Do Me Like That
3. Into The Great Wide Open
4. The Waiting
5. Even The Losers
6. Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
8. The Last DJ
9. I Need To Know
10. Here Comes My Girl