“Word is going around, you may have heard . . . we’ve been playing together for 40 years.” So Tom Petty remarked in his inimitable stoner drawl Thursday night, by way of his acknowledging, in typical understated Petty fashion, the milestone that he has reached (which is providing the title — “40th Anniversary” — for his current tour). It’s a milestone that he did not reach on his own; the remarkable fact is that the constitution of the Heartbreakers has remained largely intact for that entire time (Petty introduced drummer Steve Ferrone by joking that “we call him the new guy, because he’s only been in the band for 24 years”).
In the first of two shows at the TD Garden, Petty announced that what he and the band were going to do to mark that lengthy tenure was treat it like “one big record side,” and “drop the needle down” here and there. And that’s exactly what they did, starting things off, suitably, with the first song on the first Heartbreakers record, “Rockin’ Around (With You),” and circling back to that record’s most enduring track, “American Girl,” to close the show.
The needle landed on few deep cuts or off-the-beaten track selections, and only a few songs from the band’s recent work (the big ‘n’ loud blues rock of “I Should Have Known It,” from 2010’s blues foray, “Mojo,” and a snarling “Forgotten Man,” powered by an amped-up Bo Diddley beat, from their latest, “Hypnotic Eye”).
It got stuck in a couple of grooves during the course of the evening, notably on one of Petty’s putative solo albums, “Wildflowers.” The band did a three-song mini-set from that record midway through (as well as two more elsewhere), highlighted by an extended take on “It’s Good to Be King” that saw Mike Campbell’s guitar move from muscular riff to spacey noodle and back again.
By and large, though, Petty and company’s focus was on songs that have become rock staples — ”Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Learning to Fly,” the sing-along standards “Free Fallin’” and “I Won’t Back Down,” and of course, the song that first broke the Heartbreakers, “Refugee.”
In other words, what resulted from those needle-drops Thursday was a typical Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers show that presented what got ’em to where they are: the greatest hits of a singular brand of rock that they’ve now been making for four decades — and counting.
Peter Wolf, who has been at it for even longer than Petty, was a great table-setter. As dynamic and energetic a showman as ever, Wolf and his band served up a crackling, career-spanning set of his R&B-infused rock.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
With Peter Wolf
At TD Garden, ThursdayStuart Munro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.