Tom Petty is a shameless imitator who borrows '60s musical styles with carefree abandon. Tom Petty is a slick showman who milks the crown for all it is worth. Tom Petty is a singer/guitarist with little or no redeeming social values.

Tom Petty is also quite awesome.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' concert at the Merriweather Post Pavilion Saturday night was, without question, the most stunning rock show to play Washington so far this year. The two-hour performance left both the group and the overflow crowd exhausted. And after three encores, the house lights were brought up to calm things down. No one wanted to leave.

Tom Petty has taken the best of the clinches - raunchy Rolling Stones chords, Byrd harmonies and Dylanesque lyric touches -- and fused them with a daring New Wave approach, producing a sound that is at once old and new. Branishing their instruments like sabers, Petty and the Heartbreakers stormed through the music with an energy and sense of raucous excitment that was as much an assault as a musical performance. Whether playing a slow R&B ballad or one of their hits like "Don't Have to Live Like a Refugee," the group lashed out with a carefully controlled fury that was irrestible.