“I’m thinking it may be the last trip around the country,” [Tom] Petty told Rolling Stone shortly before [the 40th Anniversary Tour] began. “It’s very likely we’ll keep playing, but will we take on 50 shows in one tour? I don’t think so. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thinking this might be the last big one. We’re all on the backside of our sixties. I have a granddaughter now I’d like to see as much as I can. I don’t want to spend my life on the road.”
There are current Fall for Dance shows, the New Yorker Festival events, a play, plus the summer and winter shows I haven’t written up yet. But Tom Petty’s death earlier last week reminded me that I still haven’t written up one of my favorite shows of the summer and it was time to give him his due.
rtb and I were excited to get tickets for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 40th Anniversary Tour. Along for the ride were Joanna and Tim. This would be my first time seeing him. The venue would be Forest Hills Stadium and we’d be sitting up in the last row but it’s a great stadium where every seat is a good seat.
There was a little disappointment when rtb and I realized we would be missing an Okkervil River show at Joe’s Pub that was announced later in the year and would be the same night but now I’m so glad that we chose to see Tom Petty.
AXS has some kind of proprietary ticketing system that I mistakenly chose (it’s the default and I actually wanted the tickets mailed to me) and it’s set-up so that you have to show up with your credit card or driver’s license and the tickets are printed for you at the gate by a handheld machine. It seems a good way to stop scalpers but then it should be mandatory.
Walking up the stairs from the ground into the stadium, I noticed that the sound really is as dead in the stairwell as the signs claim. Once my head peaked up into the venue there was a blast of sound that was Peter Wolf. I was sad to see that the room wasn’t full yet.
When MTV was new (and you had to have cable to have it, which still wasn’t available in my part of Queens), I was visiting a boyfriend’s friend on Long Island and we were watching MTV. And there was “Centerfold” with that great shot of the drummer’s stick coming down on the drum and splashing up liquid. I already loved J Geils Band the recording artists. Now I loved the MTV stars.
Wolf was wearing a black sequin jacket and making exactly the same dance moves that I had seen him do when I saw the J Geils Band at a Schaefer (or Dr Pepper) concert in Central Park many years ago. He was also chugging from a bottle of wine. The man hasn’t missed a beat. He performed several J Geils Band songs including “Cry One More Time,” which was recorded by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Wolf was trying to get the small crowd to clap along and it was difficult but he never gave up trying and gave it his all. Before “Must of Got Lost” he gave us a long story about a cheating girlfriend. He ended with The Valentinos’ “Lookin’ for a Love” because who doesn’t love Bobby Womack?
The Midnight Travelers are Duke Levine and Kevin Barry on guitars, Marty Ballou on bass, Tom West on keyboards, and Tom Arey on drums.
There was a big crowd buying food and drinks during Wolf’s show and intermission.
When Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers hit the stage, the room had filled up.
The big ball lights on stage now danced around and moved up and down and all around while changing colors. It wasn’t the most elaborate stage show but Petty on stage seems as humble as he does in interviews. They opened with the first song from their first album, “Rockin’ Around (With You)” and took us on a journey of the band’s career. Mudcrutch (with lead guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist/pianist Benmont Tench) led to the Heartbreakers. Their debut wasn’t a great success but a re-release of “Breakdown” was popular. Their second album made the Top 40 and they were on their way.
Petty did a request (actually he was the one who requested it), “Walls (Circus).” He turned around and jumped back in surprise at the screen behind him and asked if that had been there the night before. Petty always sounds like he smoked a bowl and this night was no different.
Petty played acoustic guitar for “Wildflowers.” At the end of every song was a very effusive and sincere “thank you.” Before “Learning to Fly,” Petty said he didn’t remember which album the song was from. Petty played acoustic guitar and Campbell played mandolin. The audience sang the chorus while Petty ad-libbed. “I Should Have Known It” featured Petty and the Webb Sisters (Hattie and Charley on background vocals) looking good shaking tambourines off-mic.
The other Heartbreakers are Steve Ferrone on drums, Ron Blair on bass, and Scott Thurston on acoustic and electric guitar, horn, and organ. When introducing the band, Petty told us that Tench was a childhood friend and when Petty met Campbell they played “Johnny B Goode” together and Petty declared that Campbell needed to be in his band forever.
They encored with “American Girl,” which was a given since it hadn’t been played yet. They had to rush through it in order to be off the stage by curfew. There were so many other songs of Petty’s that I would have loved him to perform but I consider myself so lucky to have seen him on his final tour. The crowd was crazy for Tom Petty and it felt like he was just as crazy for us.
“As you’re coming up, you’re recognized song for song or album for album,” [Petty] told Esquire in 2006. “What’s changed these days is that the man who approaches me on the street is more or less thanking me for a body of work – the soundtrack to his life, as a lot of them say. And that’s a wonderful feeling. It’s all an artist can ask.”
By Carene Lydia Lopez