Tom Petty Works His Mojo at the Beacon Theatre

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers worked all kinds of magic at the Beacon Theatre in New York City this past week, culminating in a raucous 140-minute long set on Sunday, May 26.

When I bought my tickets back in early April, I already knew that I wanted to catch the final show of TP&THB's 5-night stand. I was encouraged by Tom's insistence during our recent interview that this tour was going to focus on deeper album cuts more than the arena-friendly showcases the band's most recents tour jaunts had. Tom and I were on the phone discussing the overall prowess of our mutual friend Jeff Lynne, but we also dove into the things of paramount importance to the S&V universe. Herewith, an excerpt of that discussion...

METTLER: So I understand you're working on some new recordings.

PETTY: Yes, I'm in the studio right now, in the office next door to the control room. [chuckles]

METTLER: Then you know I have to ask you this: Will we get the full audiophile treatment for this project - 180-gram vinyl plus a Blu-ray Audio 5.1 surround-sound mix?

PETTY: Absolutely! Are you kidding? [laughs] We're going for it as hard as we can. And I sure appreciate your enthusiasm. You guys were a big help last time, when we put out Mojo in 5.1.

METTLER: Thanks. It was our pleasure having you on the cover [of the June/July/August 2010 issue], holding up a copy of Mojo on vinyl, and giving us all the sound-quality goods inside. So is there anything you can say about the feel of this new music?

PETTY: Well, we've been in the studio for 7 days and cut six tracks, which we're all pretty happy about. This band is so efficient, it's scary right now. I don't even do any demos anymore. I decided to just come in and show things to them on a guitar, and then we just start playing. Probably after every pass-through, we go in and listen, and make arrangement suggestions. Then we go back and try that all out, and usually by the fourth or fifth take, we get it. So it's from crime to capture in one day. It's pretty exciting.

METTLER: That's a perfect album title right there: Crime to Capture.

PETTY: [laughs heartily] Yeah, I'll remember that.

METTLER: No charge for that one. I know you're be doing some spring residencies and summer festival gigs in the meantime. Will this album come out in 2013?

PETTY: I think I gotta finish it to know that. These days, they take so long to put it out. You hand it in, and then it takes a couple months. I don't really know what goes on in that realm anymore, and how they promote this stuff. I remember with Mojo, it took months and months for it to come out. If I turn this one in early enough, it could be out this year; but if not, then early next year.

As soon as the album is put to bed and ready for our collective ears, I'll have all of the exclusive audiophile-oriented details for you, right here.

But now, back to the Beacon. My vantage point was in the Orchestra Left Center section, Row H, Seat 17, which gave me a clear 1 o'clock view of Tom whenever he was at his mike to sing. Keyboardist Benmont Tench was more in my direct sightline, being positioned stage right. Ace guitarist Mike Campbell was mostly at 11 o'clock, though I had to bob and weave my head around the 6'6" gentleman two rows in front of me whenever he stepped out for a solo. (Practically nobody in the audience sat the entire night, BTW.)

The lighting was terrifically moody (see that "shining Beacon" shot at the top of this blog), and the Beacon's overall sonics continued to impress me after the much-needed major renovations the theater went through a few years back. The sound was as equally potent and clear as it was during a Crosby, Stills & Nash gig I saw from near the center-orchestra soundboard area last fall. Campbell, still mystifyingly underrated as a lead guitarist, unleashed swaths of killer jams all night long, whether grabbing a slide to seduce tasty riffs out of his many Les Pauls or manhandling his Rickenbacker during the encore. And I could discern a good number of Tench's always-right keyboard and piano fills based on my seat, er, standing location.

And, oh, that setlist. Tom confirmed from the stage that they were going into the "deeper album cuts," and they sure delivered. Three songs in, the blues took over, starting with the fervent buzz of "Honey Bee," followed by a cover of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's take on "Born in Chicago" - with utility player Scott Thurston blowing such a mean harp that the late Butterfield would surely approve - and then the prime grime of J.J. Cale's "13 Days."

One of my favorite vintage TP cuts, "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)," got a muscular push-pull spotlight before Tom narrated a down-home intro to "Spike" ("...hey, Spike, what do you like?" "Nothin' "). And then came the evening's best surprise: a wild ride through the Traveling Wilburys' "Tweeter and the Monkey Man." "Tweeter" was sung on The Traveling Wilburys Volume 1 by frequent TP collaborator Bob Dylan, but Tom reclaimed the song. Its slight rearrangement, complete with a farly free-form middle section, left nothing wanting (i.e., the studio recording's patented Jeff Lynne-style horns and harmonies). Tom next donned an acoustic guitar to commence a reworked "Rebels," which has aged quite well in its revised form.

As the end of the main set moved into more familiar territory, I was even more pumped than usual to sing/seethe along with the lone Mojo track of the night, "I Should Have Known It." Steve Ferrone's thundering kick drum and cymbal work stood out in the live mix, buttressed by bassist Ron Blair's in-sync low end. Tom (on the only song he was sans guitar) wielded some maracas for fine embellishment, and when Campbell grabbed his slide and the reverb kicked in on his frenzied solo, I was beyond ecstatic (and, well, almost hoarse).

Some more familiar tracks closed the main set ("Refugee" and "Runnin' Down a Dream") and filled the encore ("Listen to Her Heart" and "American Girl"), but they were all earned, taut, and arrived in the exact right places. "I think you all came on the right night," Tom said early in the evening, and I certainly couldn't argue with that. It's good to be king, isn't it?