by Julian Spivey
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers brought their 40th Anniversary tour to North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena on Sunday, April 23 and showed the state of Arkansas would masters of rock & roll look like.
The show began at 7:30 p.m. with a terrific opening set by another rock & roll legend Joe Walsh who thrilled the crowd with performances throughout his career as a solo act, member of the Eagles and member of the James Gang. The most touching moment of Walsh’s set was when he dedicated the Eagles’ classic “Take It to the Limit” to his “brother and bandmate” Glenn Frey, who died last year. Walsh would also treat the crowd to the epic one-two-three punch of finishing his set with “Funk #49,” “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way” showing off his epic guitar skills throughout.
Petty & the Heartbreakers made their first appearance at Verizon Arena since 2012 with a well-oiled performance being the group’s third show in four nights and second in back-to-back days.
The group uniquely opened the set with “Rockin’ Around (With You),” which had you purchased their self-titled debut album 40 years ago would’ve been the first ever song you heard from them. From there on out the group mixed greatest hits and album cuts splendidly throughout their two-hour set.
While many fans may not have known the set opener, they sure as hell got up on their feet and grooved to the second performance of the might “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” before Petty & the Heartbreakers launched into a terrific version of “You Don’t Know How It Feels” – hitting the crowd with a great back-to-back highlight of the group’s early ‘90s years.
Petty told the crowd on Sunday night that he hoped to hit on a bit of each era of the group’s work and showed he meant it with a performance of “Forgotten Man,” off the group’s most recent album Hypnotic Eye in 2014.
Petty and the band gave the crowd a good bit of the Wildflowers album, which seems to be one of Petty’s favorites based on interviews I’ve read and heard and he would like to tour the 1994 album from start-to-finish on the band’s next tour. The group performed the title track, “Time to Move On” and an excellently elongated version of “It’s Good to Be King” from that album. “It’s Good to Be King” showed off how truly underrated guitarist Mike Campbell is; anytime you see a list of “greatest rock guitarists” he should be on it.
A few of my favorite performances of the night were not necessarily greatest hits, but underrated Petty songs in “Walls,” “Yer So Bad” and the hard, bluesy-rock sound of “I Should Have Known,” coming off the band’s blues-infused 2010 album Mojo.
Petty covered the late ‘80s Full Moon Fever portion of his career with back-to-back performances of “I Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin’,” which were obviously crowd favorites with the arena singing along loudly in unison. They would later sing along again to “Learning to Fly,” “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” which the band would end their set with.
The band was serenaded with uproarious applause before returning to the stage a few minutes later with a terrific and hard-charging encore of “You Wreck Me” and “American Girl,” my personal favorite Petty track and the song that truly kicked their career off 40 years ago. It was a magical way to end an amazing night of wonderful rock music.