It was a party at the Schottenstein Center on Wednesday night, and fittingly so, because we were celebrating the 40th Anniversary of one of America’s greatest rock bands - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The band took the stage to enthusiastic and extended cheering, and then kicked off the show with “Rockin’ Around (With You), the first song from their very first, self-titled, 1976 album. Next, Petty started the first crowd sing-a-long with “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” which was first released in 1993 as a new track on the Greatest Hits compilation, and which some of the slightly younger Petty fans remember from it’s music video which ran extensively on MTV in the ‘90s.
With 13 Heartbreakers studio albums, and another three solo efforts, Petty and the band have enough material to play for an entire day, but did an admirable job picking out a setlist that more than satisfied fans from all eras. Petty was joined on stage by original Heartbreakers members, Mike Campbell (guitar), Ron Blair (bass), and Benmont Tench (keyboards), along with the additions of backing vocals from The Webb Sisters, multi-instrumentalist, Scott Thurston, and fantastic drummer, Steve Ferrone. The band played just one track, “Forgotten Man,” from it’s most recent release, 2014’s Hypnotic Eye, and Petty proclaimed it to be is favorite from that album.
For a band that has withstood the test of time, battling with the music industry at points along the way, the rendition of “I Won’t Back Down” was poignant moment, seemingly highlighting all at once everything the band from Gainesville, FL has accomplished. Columbus was able to prove it’s vocal skills next, with the entire arena joining Petty to sing as one on the immortal classic, “Free Fallin’.” Petty’s acclaimed 1994 solo album, Wildflowers, received ample attention during the show, including a three-track block of “It’s Good to be King,” “Crawling Back to You,” and the title track, “Wildflowers.” Petty seemed reflective during “It’s Good to Be King,” singing “Yeah I'll be king when dogs get wings/Can I help it if I still dream time to time.” He was certainly the king of Columbus on this night.
Petty and the Heartbreakers closed out the main set strongly with “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” before coming back out for a brief encore. The sold-out crowd at the Schott were definitely on their feet for the final two songs of the night, “You Wreck Me” from Wildflowers, and then, finally, “American Girl” the final track from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Venerable rocker, Joe Walsh, got the crowd going to start the evening with an hour long set covering his material from the James Gang, Eagles, and as a solo artist. Walsh, who spent part of his childhood living in Columbus, came onto stage declaring, “I used to come down here before you were born!” If you’ve ever seen Walsh perform, as a solo artist or even with the Eagles, you know that his on stage personality is larger than life - radiating his infectious enthusiasm throughout the crowd.
Walsh was in Columbus just a few years ago with the Eagles for their huge History of the Eagles tour, and on this night he led a tribute to recently deceased Eagles’ singer/guitarist Glenn Fry with a heartfelt rendition of “Take It to the Limit.” It was a powerful few minutes, clearly appreciated by the crowd, many of whom were wearing Eagles tour t-shirts. In a lighter moment, before playing “In the City,” Walsh pointed out that there were a lot people at the show who weren’t born when the song debut, exclaiming “but your parents loved it!” Walsh and his band closed out the set with classics “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way,” leaving crowd more than sufficiently excited for the rest of the night.