Tom Petty + Drive-By Truckers
United Center; Sat 17
What’s harder to believe: that Tom Petty was an MTV staple as recently as Nirvana’s heyday or that even his late-career peak was nearly 20 years ago? It’s even more difficult to fathom that before the hermit beard and aviator sunglasses he was something of a scrappy young punk. It made a certain sense that Dave Grohl should make his post-Cobain-suicide debut backing Petty on SNL back in 1994.
For the past several years, however, it’s been smooth sailing for the graying troubadour, dredging up nostalgia with a Super Bowl halftime. And it’s safe to say that few people will be flocking to the United Center to celebrate the release of his 12th album, the jammy blues workout Mojo. Instead, Pettyheads will celebrate the Floridian’s nearly peerless back catalog of meat-and-potatoes rock, anchored by the ever-tasteful Heartbreakers. Subtle guitar hero Mike Campbell pumped zip into “American Girl” and “Refugee,” protecting the hits from the ravages of time and spawning imitators in the Strokes, Kings of Leon, et al.
Warming up the crowd and ramping up beer sales are the Drive-By Truckers, long-standing candidates for America’s best live act and masters of three-hour sets that leave fans clamoring for more. Stuck in the opening slot, the Truckers are hemmed in, but there’s great satisfaction in hearing a band that references so much classic rock (on albums like Alabama Ass Whuppin’) echoing around a giant arena. The Southern booze-and-boogie hounds play every set as if they’re the mega-star headliners, anyway.