By Todd Hamm
With his latest album, “Hypnotic Eye,” having debuted two weeks ago at No. 1 on the Billboard charts — his first to hit that spot — Tom Petty played the confident entertainer Friday night at the Gorge Amphitheatre.
Petty and his stalwart band, the Heartbreakers, plucked a small clutch of songs from the album, which reflects the vintage, workmanlike songwriting of his heyday, but certainly doesn’t top it. He saved most of the night for songs that have become Americana standards, such as “American Girl,” Breakdown” and “Runnin’ Down A Dream.”
The only noticeable deviations from the Petty catalog were covers of the Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” and “Tweeter and the Monkey Man,” from his former supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys.
The crowd cheered madly whenever Petty, 63, veered even slightly from the tried-and-true course, as when he held the last word of the chorus of “I Won’t Back Down” a beat longer than normal. The Gainesville, Floridian’s voice rang true all night, sounding as close to a crossbred Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Jim Henson as ever.
Petty’s mid-tempo grooves draw from lyric-driven styles such as folk, country and blues as much as from guitar rock and the warm familiarity of his easily digestible melodies have kept him on the radio and in public favor for nearly four decades. On Friday his tunes turned into singalongs, as fans joined in from the assigned seats on the floor and from the grassy hill, dampened by morning rain.
The audience vocalized its appreciation for the duration of the two-hour set. Petty responded with some friendly quips.
“This song is absolutely all I remember from 1991,” he said at one point and introduced “Into the Great Wide Open” with the line, “I never met so many women in my life as when we had Johnny Depp in this video.”
Before Petty’s headlining set, English singer/instrumentalist Steve Winwood warmed the crowd with jam-expanded versions of his adult contemporary material, moving from piano to guitar with a backing band that featured some impressive saxophone work.
Todd Hamm: @toddhamm