Tom Petty doesn't have to prove anything to the fans who've shelled out for roughly 50 million of the arena rocker's albums over the past 30 years, the majority of them billed as the work of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. "American Girl," "Free Fallin'," "Don't Come Around Here No More," "Refugee" and maybe a dozen more Petty tunes are that ingrained in the big rock 'n' roll songbook. Petty's an icon, and the concerts on his current 30th-anniversary tour with the Heartbreakers - like the one Tuesday night at the Alliant Energy Center Coliseum - are the kind you attend knowing a priori that the hits will keep on coming. You also know that the band (in this case mainly Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell) will bask in the waves of adulation that crest over the stage each time a familiar lyric or guitar hook signals that another a piece of musical history is about to get an airing through the behemoth P.A.
Framed by a large concave arc of video screens and a glowing LED lighting setup that resembled an old neon theater marquee, Petty and the Heartbreakers hooked the audience early at the three-quarters-full Coliseum, offering a note-perfect version of "Listen to Her Heart" that rippled with nostalgia. By the time the band glided through "Mary Jane's Last Dance," the lighters were blazing and a few adventurous sorts were toking along with the familiar verses.
Clad in blue jeans, glittery velvet blazer, puffy greenish-blue shirt and flowing scarf, Petty looked like he might be caught in a time warp during an early performance at some dope-smoke-filled auditorium circa 1978. But his repeated expressions of thanks to the roaring crowd for sticking by him all these years indicated that, yes, this was 2006, and that weird, Medusa-esque hairdo Campbell now sports is probably filled out with extensions.
While Petty often loped (albeit agreeably) through the hits, Campbell showed that his guitar skills are as strong as ever. Switching between a half-dozen instruments, he evoked everyone from Roger McGuinn to John Lee Hooker, and when given room to roam on Petty's ironic "It's Good to Be King" and a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well," he made a strong case for the staying power of highly amplified blues-based note-bending.
Still, even with three original Heartbreakers in the fold, this concert came across as Tom Petty's valedictory statement. He's said he probably won't tour in a full-scale rock context again, and every time his contented grin beamed from the big screens, you sensed that he was coming to terms with a long, successful rock 'n' roll career that was about to enter a much different phase.
Openers the Dandy Warhols didn't get full use of the stage or, apparently, the P.A., and as a result, their wall-of-sound psychedelic pop sounded small and constrained in the cavernous Coliseum. Affable front man Courtney Taylor-Taylor did what he could to overcome the pinched circumstances of their performance, but the Warhols' 40-minute set never really caught fire.