Tom Petty & Jackson Browne

Photo by John HillsSitting in the lawn section at Verizon Wireless is like catching an Angels game from the nosebleeds. There's little to see—the sound is great, but that blue blur down there? That's a band beneath a jumbo screen with Jackson Browne's mug on it. So most people turn to a brief life of crime. It's like imperial Rome, if Romans worshipped only their vomitoria. Tonight is especially chaotic: drunk 16-year-olds stumbling on everyone's blankets; others trying to jump the fence separating the amphitheater from the hills—one guy climbs the fence, balances precariously for a moment, and then head-plants into the grass. A woman in her thirties observes, "No one needs to see Tom Petty that bad." It's boys, mostly, and they're lined up along the fence, peeing through the holes into Irvine Ranch territory instead of waiting in a line that looks like China's Great Wall with a bathroom at the end. I cop a squat on the beer-drenched sod and note that Jackson Browne looks pretty damn good for 50-plus, and sings even better. And (thanks to Dad) I actually know the songs—"Doctor My Eyes," "The Pretender" and "Running On Empty." The kids around me? They don't like him so much.

For Tom Petty's set I sneak down into the civilized sections, where everyone isn't playing tongue twister or screaming, "I fuckinfuckinfuckin' love you!!" and "I am soooooo fucked up!" as if they were the First Generation Ever. Petty either really loves what he does or ought to be an actor who pretends he does: he dances, laughs, smiles, and even calls us "baby dolls" in his froggy voice. He dances like a hippie, like a long-limbed bird, the last one of its species just before extinction. And he also loves his band: later, Petty proclaims it's his 30-year anniversary with the Heartbreakers. Falling headfirst seems to be the choreography of choice this evening: another guy drops from the row above us onto my brother's feet. Petty works his Vox guitar smoothly—like he's been practicing for 30 years—moving energetically through "Free Fallin'," "Don't Do Me Like That," "Mary Jane's Last Dance," "Learning to Fly," "Don't Come Around Here No More" and "Runnin' Down a Dream," and ends with Them's "Gloria" and "American Girl." I end the night thinking of all the music critics who diss the old guys who play music—and of all the kids who fall headfirst to hear them one more time.


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