A few songs into their performance Saturday night at Fenway Park, Tom Petty proclaimed that he and his merry band of Heartbreakers would give the capacity crowd “the full industrial length rock show.”
Thanks to the group’s stupendous catalog of hits and cherished album cuts and a skill set and work ethic second to none, it was not a hard promise to keep for the Florida-spawned, California-kissed classic rockers. If they’ve ever given a less than stellar performance, it hasn’t been in Boston and Saturday night they added another first-rate local show to their long list.
For nearly two hours — from their chiming take on the Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock ’n’ Roll Star” to the closing pedal-to-the-metal rendition of “American Girl” — the sextet did what they do best, blaze through their timeless jukebox of songs both fiery and delicate with a sense of vigor, nuance, and a round of big grins.
Crowd singalongs were loud and frequent as the audience raised its collective voice to help songs like “Into the Great Wide Open,” “Learning to Fly,” and most emphatically, “Free Fallin’ ” sail into the night.
A chipper Petty repeatedly thanked the crowd in his laid-back stoner drawl, promising to try and touch on every era of the band’s nearly 40-year history. And the group did, from early hits like the still urgent “Refugee” to a gorgeously sparse, plaintive version of “Rebels” from the mid-’80s to brand new barnburners like “American Dream Plan B,” slaying it all no matter whether the accent be garage, Americana, psychedelia, pop shuffle, or Southern.
As suspected, the latter song, like others from the band’s dynamite new album, “Hypnotic Eye,” stood tall among their elder siblings. And seemingly no matter how many times the Heartbreakers have played the old ones, the group finds a way to freshen them up for themselves and the audience without ever straying too far from the core of what makes the songs so sturdy.
“A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)” received a sparkling new piano intro from keyboard hero Benmont Tench, who, along with gifted utility man Scott Thurston, provided excellent backing vocals. Bassist Ron Blair held down the bottom and kept fans’ hips moving. Lead guitarist Mike Campbell, the king of the piquant-but-economical guitar solo, served up strafing bursts of firepower all night. And secret weapon drummer Steve Ferrone held it all together, whether working through the stutter-and-hitch groove of “Don’t Come Around Here No More” or the four-on-the-floor simplicity of “I Won’t Back Down,” creating the perfect pocket and injecting impeccable swing.
The only thing heartbreaking about a Tom Petty show is that there simply isn’t enough time to get to everything. But even with several big hits sadly unplayed there was zero fat in the set list.
Many artists will say that your city is their favorite, but Saturday night when Petty proclaimed Boston was the group’s top spot there was a ring of truth. Especially after he explained that when their first single was going nowhere they were surprised after a few months to be told “They’re playing it in Boston!” The group returned the favor by playing it — “American Girl” — in Boston one more time, imbuing it with as much life as ever.
Steve Winwood and his ace band were the perfect table-setter. In great voice Winwood played everything from his earliest hits with the Spencer Davis Group like the jubilant “Gimme Some Lovin’,” to the dreamy Blind Faith classic “Can’t Find My Way Home,” to his expansive Traffic jams — including a brawny “Dear Mr. Fantasy” — and took a quick trip to his solo ’80s pop resurgence with a tropical take on “Higher Love.”