You knew you were in the company of proud rock geeks from the first notes of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' show Tuesday at the Honda Center in Anaheim. The band dove headlong into the Byrds' "So You Want To Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star," whose recipe for rock success seems to have provided a template for the group's extended career.
Petty and his cohorts cemented that impression later, briefly detouring from their own estimable songbook for another cover, serving up "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" and dedicating it not to the group that earned the biggest hit with it (the Monkees) but to the one that recorded it first, as an homage to the namesake member of Paul Revere &; the Raiders, who died last week at 76.
One of the most endearing qualities that Petty and founding members guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Ron Blair have exuded is accessibility. They've always come across as the ingratiating guys down your street who bashed away in their garage doing their best to be the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Byrds or any number of other musical heroes.
In chasing that dream, of course, Petty and the Heartbreakers joined the ranks of rock's elite, yet still seem better described as rock fans than rock stars as the years have rolled by.
That's been built not on any sincere form of flattery, but on the strength of songwriting, mostly by Petty and Campbell, which has often been the equal of rock's best writers.
That gift was clearly evident through a nearly two-hour performance filled with contemporary rock classics such as "Refugee," "American Girl," "I Won't Back Down," "Free Fallin'" and "Runnin' Down a Dream" supplemented by a healthy sprinkling of strong new songs from the band's latest album, "Hypnotic Eye."
Petty's new tour, on a bill with fellow rock veteran Steve Winwood, includes a pair of homecoming shows on Friday and Saturday at the Forum in Inglewood.
A full review will appear Thursday in Calendar.