REVIEW: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at TD Garden (7/21)

At 7pm the Garden was half filled, fans meandering noncommittally around their seats. Most wore old tour t-shirts and, in lieu of speaking to those that they came with, stared expectantly at the empty stage. It was a quiet and docile crowd for a Friday night. A seemingly unremarkable observation, this was no indication of what was to come.

Once the lights faded and Peter Wolf opened the show, he wasted no time. The band dove directly in to the song “Thick as Thieves” and didn’t come up for air until several songs later. Wolf’s set was thick with traces of his history; complete with four J. Giels Band songs and a story about playing the old Boston Garden. Unmistakable was the energy that Wolf brought to the stage. The way his black sequined blazer caught the light when he danced was irresistible, leaving anyone who was paying attention no choice but to enjoy the band. It’s not often that an opener can bring a crowd to their feet the way Peter Wolf did.

Then came Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Several words immediately come to mind to describe their set, including well lit. However, only one word is needed to summarize: epic. Tom Petty played every song the crowd was hungry to hear, the excitement of each spilling over in to the next.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, whose newest member has been a part of the ensemble for 23 years, were well practiced and seemingly infallible. Celebrating their 40th anniversary, their set was stacked with favorites from the Heartbreakers catalogue and Petty’s solo catalogue alike. Every song could be listed as a highlight, but hearing the entire crowd sing along to classics such as “You Don’t Know How it Feels”, “I Won’t Back Down”, and “Free Fallin’” that set them a cut above the rest. The room finally bust wide open during the encore, where Petty played “You Wreck Me” and then tore in to “American Girl”. Especially notable during the last song was the video playing behind the band, which sewed together visions of every type of American girl.

There was something distinctive in the air when the lights came up on the crowd after Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers took their final bow. A previously quiet, half filled crowd was now full, loud, lively, and young. Applause for the band continued on long after they had left the stage. There was electricity in the air, the electricity of a shared experience— of knowing we had just seen a legend.