Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/ The Black Crowes 6/30/2005: SPAC, Saratoga Springs, NY

On the Eastern rim of the Adirondacks, the scenic gem of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center was sold out and loaded with the dedicated fans of two nationally respected touring acts; neither of which has released an album of new material in over 3 years. Both bands have amassed strong catalogs of songs, and both possess a deep understanding of “rock and rollers” in the true sense who have come before them. Yet in their live performance the bands are Ying and Yang in their styles. One loves to mix it up and experiment in their set, and one sticks to the tried and true formula of “play your hits and play them well.” Both bands submerge themselves in roots rock from the past and both are still engaging performers of their own music in the present, admittedly in different ways.

The Black Crowes 65-minute set consisted of expressive guitar work from these newly reformed titans of southern sounds. Chris Robinson’s soulful voice along with Marc Ford’s melodic guitar set the stage early with climbing versions of “Thorn in My Pride” and the excellent “Sometimes Salvation.” The Crowes live in the moment and play to their dedicated fan base, eschewing the “hits” for deeper cuts, and playing new setlists every night out. Since reforming earlier this year, they have toured non-stop, reminding those who had forgotten, that they can be one of the most powerful bands on the planet. Their closer “Remedy” sealed the deal and lifted the crowd for the upcoming Petty set.

If you were a casual fan and disappointed by not hearing “Hard to Handle,” and were worried that Tom Petty would perform a set of obscure tunes and ancient covers, you had nothing to worry about. Petty and the Heartbreakers performed all of the songs you’ve been hearing in long car rides for 20 years. The words were shouted out loud by the 25,000+ on hand for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s set. People were crowding the aisles to sing along with all the classics, from “Listen To Her Heart” to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” Both young and old seemed truly impressed with the classic rock staples, only the low volume of the acoustic portion of the show seemed to tame the massive crowd. Sprinkling in standard rock covers of “Gloria” and “Knocking on Heavens Door” kept the sing-alongs flowing. Petty’s show isn’t changing any time soon and judging by the crowd reaction the fans wouldn’t have it any other way. With Petty blowing kisses and Mike Campbell playing cutting guitar leads the summer night ended, and two bands showed that different approaches to playing live can succeed in delivering the goods to a packed house.

Black Crowes Photo by Adam Foley

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