There aren’t many musicians with the solid catalog Tom Petty has achieved in almost four decades of music with his Heartbreakers. At their show at Chicago’s United Center on Saturday, Petty warned his fans at the start that they should tell their babysitter they’d be home late, and he delivered on this promise with two hours of incredible selections from his back catalog, including “Free Fallin’,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “Learning to Fly,” “Refugee,” “American Girl” and selections from this year’s Hypnotic Eye as well. Petty’s energy was unabated and the Heartbreakers kept up with an incredible tightness that made the new songs feel as accomplished as the old favorites.
Petty’s devoted fans sang along with gusto, which heightened a consistent feeling of camaraderie. His lyrics are quite easy to remember because they’re genuine and carry many universal themes. In that way, they’re a bit like Hemingway’s writing, in that they are easy to understand and relate to, but there’s a sophistication that makes them timeless.
Petty’s stage banter was also quite thrilling: He joked about dating a girl addicted to the Home Shopping Network, and about Johnny Depp showing up very early to be in the video for “Into the Great Wide Open” while he himself showed up late. His sincere delivery wasn’t limited to his lyrics but also to the way he thanked his audience and revealed that he felt Chicago was continuing to become better place to visit and play. It’s difficult to make a connection with your audience when you’re playing a space as large as the United Center, but Petty succeeded in conveying a message of gratitude in his accomplishments as a musician and, as many fans would suggest, a great American poet.