Tom Petty hosts the ultimate summer party
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The summer concert really can’t be topped.
Between the tailgate, the buddies, the neighbors parked who have seen insert-band-here 14 times and the 16-year-olds who get busted by over-zealous venue cops, there’s nothing quite like it.
The bills for these vary, though. Last summer, the two-day Lollapalooza looked like a dream ticket — Sonic Youth, Gomez, PJ Harvey, Flaming Lips, Wilco, etc. — but, alas, that was cancelled. Headliners like Poison and Sammy Hagar and Lynyrd Skynyrd always seem to survive, though, so any real outdoor summer lineup gem is greatly appreciated.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers with the Black Crowes opening would be such a gem.
The Black Crowes, as previously stated, are a concert must-see. I’d seen them at this venue, formerly and forever known as Great Woods, a couple of times before and knew that they seemed comfortable and in their element here. Opening, with “No Speak, No Slave,” they instantly bowled me over. Chris Robinson’s voice sounded much sharper than it had just six weeks earlier and it didn’t sound so shabby then. The band, though playing second banana to Petty, didn’t seem to let it affect them as they ripped through “Gone,” “Horse Head” and a wicked version of “My Morning
Song.” They had the audience (by now about 70% full) at full attention by they time the closed their set with the double-whammy of “Jealous Again” and “She Talks To Angels.” It’s strange to think that the opener — any opener — could possibly upstage their headlining counterpart. But it was a moot thought, because that proved not to be the case.
Petty came out a while later, supported by his Heartbreakers and a video backdrop that almost served as a tribute to the Split Enz’ True Colours album. Big smile, big opening chords, bright lights and a big opening line — “You think you’re gonna take her away…” — and the set was an instant hit.
Everyone in the place, even me, was singing and screaming along every word. I mean every single word to every single song. I was amazed at myself. I was screaming along every phrase of this guy’s catalog, and it wasn’t until then I was actually able to appreciate how amazing Tom Petty’s career has been. He has never written a complete dud; his cannon is filled with hit after hit after hit, and these aren’t cookie-cutter pop hits, either. “Free Fallin’,” “Breakdown,”“Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” “I Won’t Back Down,” … it didn’t matter what he played, he had the entire venue enthralled. And he actually appreciated it.
“Aw, it’s such a pleasure to be able to play these songs for you guys,” he said early on in the set from behind a huge grin. “The biggest thrill in the world for us is to be able to play for you, and we’re gonna play some good songs tonight and have a good time.”
There weren’t just hits, though. “Turn This Car Around” was a preview of an album due later this year, “Handle With Care” was a perfectly-executed tribute to his former mates, the Traveling Wilburys, and “Melinda” was a live-DVD-only gem.
Watching Petty interact with the crowd left the fact undisputable that he absolutely loves what he does and how fortunate he is to be able to do it. The adult in him — pushing 60, but looking 27 — understands how hard it is to maintain a career with as much creative and commercial viability as his has, but he still allows the boy in him to love the idea of being on a rock n’ roll stage for a rock n’ roll crowd.
After “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” I was seriously questioning what could possibly be left for an encore — he had just played what felt like 4,000 No. 1 hits. “You Wreck Me,” a stomping version of Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women,” and, finally, “American Girl,” the first single he and his Heartbreakers ever released. It was more than a fitting way to wrap up an incredible night.
I was giddy for a good four hours after the show. I hadn’t walked out of a venue that excited and just that happy in years. Petty leaves his audience feeling great, and I’d be willing to wager that his audience leaves him feeling like a million bucks.
There’s no better way to spend a day in the sun this summer, and if you can catch them in a city near you, I advise you do whatever you can to make it.
Unless you’re against the idea of smiling for days after, that is.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org