Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers Fonda Theater 6/3/13 See photos from Tom Petty's performance here.
Tom Petty's love affair with Los Angeles began nearly 40 years ago after he left his native North Florida for the allure of the big city. It proved to be an excellent decision. With that in mind, the 62-year-old hit the stage at the Fonda for the first of six sold-out nights in the city he calls home. This wasn't lost on the singer and on this night, he decided to set the tone early of what was to come.
"It's great to be here in Hollywood!" Petty exclaimed after "Love Is A Long Road." He then told the crowd that the majority of the evening was spent culling through his back catalog of lesser-known songs, which the singer called "album tracks," eschewing many of the mega hits that made the band staples of rock radio.
Over the course of the 20-song, two-hour set, Petty and The Heartbreakers gave diehards a one-of-a-kind performance. While some unknowing fans treated the songs with awkward curiosity (perhaps they didn't get the memo that this show and the run in New York City were going to feature obscure cuts), the rest greeted them like long-lost friends. It's likely that many of the diehards in attendance hadn't heard these songs since they were first recorded, if they'd heard them played at all.
Songs like "Rebels" and "Billy The Kid" turned into surprising sing-a-longs, while a cover of the Traveling Wilburys' "Tweeter and The Monkey Man" packed the punch of the original despite Petty not being able to trade lyrics with Bob Dylan. The foundation of the obscure cuts built off the blues and it was easy to hear where the band's sound came from. Whether a song called for machine gun guitar solos or more deliberate, swampy jams, these tunes showed to those who are either unfamiliar with the band's roots that despite the glitz and glamour of living in Los Angeles, at their heart, they're a Southern blues band.
The simplistic beauty of these songs is what sets Petty's songwriting apart from many of his peers. He can take what sounds and seems like a simple song and turn it into something that's greater than the some of its parts. This can be attributed to the tightness and unspeakable chemistry that comes along with a band playing together since 1976.
After the steady stream of album tracks, the proverbial floodgates reopened with "Refugee," a hit that got many of the artificial hips and knees in the crowd swinging back and forth. The gnashing riffs of "Runnin' Down A Dream," and "You Wreck Me" proved to a pleasant reminder of how easy it is for Petty to flip the switch and play songs that everyone knows.
What made this special above anything else was the intimacy of the performance. It's rare to see a band as storied and revered as Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers play at a venue like The Fonda, which is generally a place where bands on the rise play before they hit the big time. Yet a venue like this one, it's impossible not to appreciate how great a band like this is.
On a night when the Heartbreakers were melting hearts and in peak form, one couldn't help but notice how relaxed they were onstage. Smiles were traded in between solos and the good vibes shot out into the crowd. When you've been in a band for nearly 40 years, it would be easy to phone it in, yet playing deep cuts from their past has reinvigorated Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to the point where they're challenging themselves to make fans forget how many hits they have.
By the end of "American Girl," a song Petty said got it all started, fans appeared to appreciate the depth of the band's catalog. When a songwriter has many great songs as Petty does, it's easy to overlook the obscure songs for and as demonstrated last night, you could be missing out on some kickass classics.
Critical Bias: I skipped school when I was a senior in high school so I could get Tom Petty tickets
The Crowd: Lots of baldheads and wrinkles
Random Notebook Dump: To the person waving the Traveling Wilburies vinyl, please don't do that again. It's rude and you were blocking people's view
Set list below:
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Rock and Roll Star (The Byrds cover) Love is a Long Road I Won't Back Down Fooled Again Cabin Down Below Good Enough Stepping Stone Woman in Love Billy the Kid Tweeter and Monkey Man (Traveling Wilburys cover) Rebels Hard to Find a Friend Angel Dream Willin' Melinda I Should Have Known It Refugee Running Down a Dream
Encore: You Wreck Me American Girl