Staring a full moon in the face for more than two hours during a show at the Journal Pavilion Thursday night, it was fitting that Tom Petty started out the show with “Running Down a Dream” and “I Won’t Back Down” — two songs off his 1989 solo release “Full Moon Fever.”
A sold-out crowd of more than 15,000 immediately caught the bug as Petty and his band, the Heartbreakers, led them through a feverish — sometimes psychedelic, sometimes cardiactic — trip from the 1970s to the future.
Petty and the Heartbreakers distributed the medicine in just the right doses, mixing in at least one song from each of their albums, including three from their upcoming release, “The Last D.J.”
“Have Love Will Travel” was the first of the new songs they played.
“Thanks so much. It’s good to hear applause for a new song,” Petty said after the tune received a warm response from the audience.
The fervor for Petty was epidemic. A line of cars backed up to I-25 could be seen from the lawn seats between performances of the Heartbreakers and show-opener Jackson Browne. Some of the crowd missed a pleasing performance by Browne and the first several songs of the Heartbreaker’s set.
The people leaving moved just as slowly as the majority of those who stayed to savor every last measure Petty dispensed. As Petty says in some lyrics from the group’s second album, “Too Much Ain’t Enough.”
Dressed for an Albuquerque crowd in a fringed buckskin coat, a print shirt, brown jeans and cowboy boots, Petty showed some of the wear and tear of his 25-year career as a rocker — his long blonde hair thin and stringy, his body lanky and bony.
A first-ballot Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer this year, Petty also showed the savvy of a veteran rock star, carrying on a dialogue with the audience throughout the show.
“Here’s one from the 1970s,” Petty told the crowd while introducing “Here Comes My Girl,” a song off “Damn the Torpedoes,” the 1978 release that was the Heartbreakers’ breakout album. They followed that with another song from the album, “Even the Losers,” and, later in the show, cured those hysterics in the crowd who were screaming all night for “Refugee.”
Most of the original Heartbreakers are still with the band, including keyboardist Benmont Trench, bassist Ron Blair, guitarist Howie Epstein and lead guitarist extraordinaire Mike Campbell.
The band was tight, despite having to deal with a few technical difficulties that interrupted the show. The show hit a fever-pitch with the guitar play between Campbell and Petty during an extended version of “It’s Good To Be King.” It was sick — almost hallucinogenic — with guitars screeching over psychedelic images projected on a screen behind them.
The energy was contagious, keeping the crowd on its feet, dancing and swaying to the music, all night. The audience wavered to dizzying effect as Petty waded through fellow-Traveling Wilbury Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” He also performed the rock classic “Gloria,” improvising a drawn-out verse about walking down the street that perhaps went on too long.
Still, Petty maintained a congenial bedside manner, carrying on a dialogue with the audience between songs. The self-proclaimed Born Rebel prattled socio-political comment, bashing George W. Bush, Republicans in general and the over-commercialization of rock music.
“We don’t need to be selling any Honda Civics,” he said in his Florida drawl. “This show is brought to you by you!” Which drew a rousing round of cheers from the sponsors.
The band played “You Wreck Me” as its finale. By then, the crowd had been thoroughly blown away.
For the encore, the Heartbreakers slowed the pulse with an acoustic “Free Falling,” another hit off “Full Moon Fever.” The band finished full-circle, playing their first hit, “American Girl,” from their self-titled first album of 1976.
Petty thanked the crowd and seemed genuinely appreciative of the response he received. And there’s no doubt the flushed and frenzied Albuquerque audience left overwhelmingly pleased with the performance. It was just what the doctor ordered.
Those who showed up late missed a fine performance by Jackson Browne. Unlike Petty, Browne has been mostly absent from the charts since breaking on to the scene as one in a line behind Dylan as a folk-rock poet.
Browne’s hour-long set included many samples of his best early work, including “Fountains of Sorrow,” “Doctor My Eyes” and “The Pretender.” Moving from guitar to piano and back to guitar, Browne also played his hits of the ’80s, “Boulevard” and “Running On Empty.”
Browne, who hasn’t released an album since 1996, offered “The Night Inside Me,” the lead single off a new album, “The Naked Truth,” to be released next month.
Looking much younger than his years, Browne has maintained his laid-back California appearance. He looked fit and trim. His hair was parted down the middle, just as it was on the cover of his self-titled debut album of 1972, also known as “Saturate Before Using.”
The Jackson Browne-Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers show was one of the biggest at the Journal Pavilion this year. And it may well have been the best.