“Can I jam for you people?” Tom Petty asked in all seriousness last night during his sold out Madison Square Garden show. Petty and the Heartbreaker’s first New York City performance in three years consisted of one gigantic hit in front of another — “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Falling” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” all in the first half-hour — but Petty did detour mid-set to play some new material and a series of mellow acoustic numbers.
The band also performed a few covers, which Petty introduced via a nostalgic speech about how long the Heartbreakers have been together (30 years). “It might be fun to play a couple of things that we picked up on when we were kids,” Petty said before executing a graceful little twirl (seriously) and launching into the Yardbirds’ “I’m A Man,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” plus the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care.” Petty introduced his guest performer of the night, Stevie Nicks, as “our little sister” and the pair sang their 1981 duet “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” plus “Insider.” Nicks changed outfits three times during the set while Petty was wearing what appeared to be the exact same clothes he had on last weekend at Bonnaroo. Before playing a cover of Them’s “Mystic Eyes,” Petty really got gushy, chanting to the crowd like a rock and roll evangelist, “You make me feel so good inside, I want to take you to a place that feels so good inside — will you go with me people?” Then he played “American Girl” and in five minutes united an otherwise very disparate crowd. Urban and suburban, hipster and housewives, stoner and, um stoner; all tipped their heads back, closed their eyes and, unburdened, sang every word.