NOTE: See the photo gallery, setlist and videos at the bottom.
Coming off a Saturday show that had to be one of the more frustrating and disappointing night’s of the band’s storied career (being forced to cut the show short by fire marshal), Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers came roaring back with a purpose-driven energy on Sunday night to deliver a fantastic, catalog-plundering fifth show of the ongoing six-night residency in Hollywood at the Fonda Theatre.
Petty was quick to address the elephant in the room, saying that “I don’t really like to assign blame when I get into an argument with people…” before half-joking “…but it wasn’t me” to a laughing audience. On a rare serious note, Petty (ever the gracious showman) even went as far as to promise to make things right for Saturday, offering to personally reimburse all ticket holders if need be. A truly tasteful move from one of the music world’s class acts.
After getting that out of the way (and assuring the crowd that this show would go the distance), the focus rested solely where it belongs: the superb quality of music being performed (ranging from rock solid to downright spectacular at various points in the night). The Heartbreakers, at their core, simply put, are quite possibly the best bar band to ever make it out of the playing-for-tips circuit and for good reason. A “musician’s musician” is generally an artist that is loved by his creative peers but oftentimes overlooked by mainstream audience. Petty and Co. are the antithesis to this rule, as artists almost wholly revered within the rock musician community and big enough to fill a room 20x the size of the Fonda.
And that’s what made last night so special. The impeccable sound, intimate setting and intriguing song selection all made this one to remember.
From the photo pit, it was hard not to marvel at the sheer amount of vintage gear that was set up on stage. It also signified just how much these guys care about finding the right sound for each track. Out of the gate, Petty acknowledged that the night would be heavy on deeper cuts, and he was right, as many rare tracks from the Heartbreakers’ back catalog were dusted off for the first time in years, much to the enjoyment of the hardcore fans in the audience (of which there were many). The set list walked the tightrope, keeping a nice balance between delving too far into the obscure and sapping the energy from the room and merely going through the motions and only playing tired classics all night.
Fittingly, given the night prior’s events, the show began with a gritty cover of The Byrds ’67 classic “So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star,” a song which, at its core, is about the difficulties and pressures that can come along with success. Throughout the night, Petty and Co. would give due deference and pay homage to the artists who influenced them like Dylan, The Byrds and Muddy Waters to name a few.
The price you pay for your riches and fame
Was it all a strange game
You’re a little insane
The money that came and the public acclaim
Don’t forget what you are
You’re a rock’n’roll star
“Love Is A Long Road” from Tom Petty’s debut solo record Full Moon Fever (1989) would follow before the first singalong of the night “Listen To Her Heart”. None of the classics came off stale, depraved of passion or energy. You’d be hard-pressed to find too many arena-sized bands with over three decades of touring under their belt with the ability to still, after all these years, keep it real like this. An early highlight of the show came early with “Honey Bee”, a swirling, bluesy romp from Wildflowers. The sound in the room was impeccable and locked in throughout the show and particularly during some of the larger, room-filling riffs by Mike Campbell.
“House In The Woods” was another emphatically delivered standout from Wildflowers. Definitely the swoon moment of the night and a fulcrum of the show before The Heartbreakers really started to turn things loose. While the first 1/3 of the show was strong, the show took off with a lengthy and improvisational “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” (Traveling Wilburys) excursion -- a rendering that took fans down an atmospheric and downright lysergic path for a brief few moments.
Next was the mostly acoustic “Rebels”, producing a raucous and chills-inducing call-and-response (“hey hey hey!”) moment from every last one of the 1,300 in attendance.
The most exciting cover choice of the night was the emotionally wrought “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (check, another nod to Robert Zimmerman -- first time played since 2005), a tune that always reminds me of Warren Zevon. This rendition would’ve made the gone-too-soon Hollywood stalwart happy. No matter who’s playing this one, it always seems to hit that emotional center that rarely gets tapped into at a rock concert and it was no different this time around.
It’s Good To Be King” has been my personal favorite ever since its release during the heyday of MTV (classic music video). Notably, this version soared even higher than The Live Anthology version I’ve played so many times over. Although Campbell is one of the rock and roll’s true guitar greats, Petty’s axe talent wasn’t entirely overlooked on this night and this track offered the biggest display of his impressive chops before Campbell piped in with another stunning psychedelic run that left a few jaws on the floor. If I could pinpoint a “peak” moment in the show, it was right here.
When a concert apexes to a point as immediately recognizably special as the “Knockin’ -- It’s Good To Be King” segment, the old adage that “the rest was just gravy” comes in to play. That being the case, it was the perfect time for The Heartbreakers to completely tie the room together and go into jukebox mode, ensuring that any more casual fans in the room wouldn’t go home without hearing they’ll-be-known-long-after-we’re-gone earworms like “Refugee,” a blazing “Runnin’ Down a Dream” (see video below) and the encore of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “American Girl.”
Petty is the musical analog to an athlete like the Spurs’ Tim Duncan. Both the artist and athlete’s storied careers have been remarkably consistent and steadily brilliant. What’s more is that both Petty and Duncan make this rarefound superiority look so damn easy and effortless. In music (as in the modern sports world), consistency, humility and pure talent aren’t always celebrated in the way they probably should be, but if this latest run of residency shows is any indication, Petty and Co. are thoroughly enjoying another run through the limelight (save one bump in the road).
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ place in the American rock-and-roll pantheon is firmly secured at this point and it seems as if everything from this point on in his career is, as they say, just gravy.
Here’s hoping this residency thing becomes an annual tradition because damn that was fun.
SETLIST: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers @ Fonda Theatre, Hollywood, CA | Sunday, June 9th, 2013
So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star (The Byrds cover)
Love Is a Long Road
Listen to Her Heart
Thirteen Days (J.J. Cale cover)
I Just Want to Make Love to You (Muddy Waters cover)
A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)
House in the Woods
Tweeter and the Monkey Man (Traveling Wilburys cover)
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
(Bob Dylan cover)
It’s Good to Be King
I Should Have Known It
Runnin’ Down a Dream
Mary Jane’s Last Dance