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Petty Keeps Cold, Wet Fans Entertained

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Sunday, May 7, The Gorge

The Gorge in early May can be a risky proposition.

About five songs into the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert on Sunday, the wind-driven rain began to slash. Since most of us had already been sitting around for three hours in down-jacket weather, this might have been the last straw. It wasn’t.

Somehow it served only to make the night that much more memorable. A little boogieing to “Last Dance With Mary Jane,” and the cold was something to be forgotten, or even celebrated.

Besides, the rain blew through quickly, and the only thunder in the last half of the set came when guitarist Mike Campbell fired off the cannon-shot intro to “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”

One of the great things about Petty’s musical style, which could be described as spare, is that it can be reproduced beautifully on stage. The material from Petty’s latest album, “Wildflowers,” sounded particularly fine, especially the ethereal, chiming title cut and the crowd-pleasing “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” with its ever-popular themes of youthful alienation and recreational drug use.

The show was heavy on “Wildflowers” material, ironic since it is billed as simply a Tom Petty album, not a Heartbreakers album. They performed “Cabin Down Below,” “Time To Move On,” “You Wreck Me,” “Honey Bee,” and “It’s Good to Be King,” all faithful to the album versions.

In a two-plus hour set, they also did a fair sample of greatest hits, including “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free-Falling,” “Learning to Fly,” “American Girl,” and an odd version of “The Waiting.” The latter showed evidence of having been played too many hundreds of times by this band.

“Drivin’ To Georgia” certainly didn’t have this problem. It’s an unreleased song from an upcoming album, and judging from this incendiary, hard-driving version, destined to be the band’s next hit.

Some of the best moments were neither new nor old Petty songs; they were covers. Campbell’s extended version of “Diamond Head,” which Petty introduced as psychedelic surf music, was a marvel of guitar precision and Ventures-like tremolo. And the entire band’s rave-up version of Chuck Berry’s “Reelin’ and Rockin”’ was good-time rock ‘n’ roll at its purest and most exuberant. The near-capacity crowd, damp as it was, went berserk. (There had been an earlier sell-out concert on Friday).

The crowd itself was a revelation. While all ages were represented, the majority were college-age. Petty, 41, had his first hit when they were about 3, but because of his unflagging songwriting creativity and his commitment to simplicity, his music feels and sounds timeless.

The Jayhawks played a 40-minute set of Eagles-like rock to open. It was solid and enjoyable, but the crowd gave them a chilly reception, in more ways than one.

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