For fans who had been waiting all summer to hear Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers perform their hits, the wait was finally over on Sunday night at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. Petty's show, rescheduled from the beginning to the end of summer, focused on older stuff for nearly the first hour of his set, before venturing into territory from "Mojo," the band's latest album.
Many fans already knew the words to "Running Man's Bible" and "Good Enough" despite a downloadable copy of the disc being given away to all ticket holders. He revisited "Oh Well," a meaty Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac track that he and his bandmates have covered on previous tours (including in Charlotte 2006). It gave guitarist Mike Campbell, who wore a scarf, vest, and velvet blazer similar to his band leader's, a chance to show off his screaming solo work. This followed the one-two punch of "Won't Back Down" and "Free Fallin'," which went over so well it felt like the finale only four songs into the set.
The set list was actually quite similar to Petty's 2006 show aside from the bluesy segue, the crowd sing-a-long of "Breakdown," and the surprising inclusion of "King's Highway" (the lead track off "Into the Great Wide Open"). The sound quality was a bit brassy, with Petty's vocals sometimes buried beneath the guitars, but the fans didn't seem to mind. They met "Learning to Fly," "Don't Come Around Here No More," and "Refugee" with expected furor before an encore that included "Runnin' Down a Dream."
In a fitting move, the opening act was ZZ Top -- the Texas blues and boogie trio that, like Petty, enjoyed a pop boost as early MTV darlings. This was another band that was overdue in playing Charlotte: ZZ Top's last local date, with Aerosmith in July 2009, was canceled (Petty's scheduled opener for the original early-summer date was Joe Cocker).
ZZ Top came off gruff and gritty thanks to Billy Gibbons' somehow simultaneously gnarly and polished guitar tone and deep, graveling Texan twang.
Early tracks like "Waitin' for the Bus" and "Jesus Just Left Chicago" (from 1973's "Tres Hombres") paved the way for minor hits like "Got Me Under Pressure," 1979's "Cheap Sunglasses," and "I Need You Tonight," a deep cut from its breakout 1983 MTV-aided smash "Eliminator." Gibbons played the solo on the latter, with one hand on his guitar's neck and the other on his hip. He also paid tribute to Jimi Hendrix (who died 40 years ago this weekend) with a respectful rendition of "Hey Joe."
The set was low-frills, aside from a few moments of choreography between Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill and the precariously stacked amplifiers winging Frank Beard's elaborate skull double bass drum kit. "Same three guys, same three chords," Gibbons deadpanned at one point. Although focusing on blues, it didn't withhold its hits, ending the set with a string of knockouts â“ "Gimme All Your Lovin'," "Sharp Dressed Man," "Legs," "La Grange," and "Tush."
It was the perfect setup for Petty's music, which - thanks to an arsenal of pop hits and more recent forays into blues - has become synonymous with great American music. It appeals to everyone from granddads to fraternity pledges, who earnestly sang along, drank beer, and danced the night away.