Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers
Living in Southern California makes you forget sometimes how majestic late September evenings can be. Especially at the Hollywood Bowl. Experiencing a show at the hallowed venue with a crisp autumn breeze with an out-of-towner is a pleasant reminder of how good we have it, and how often we take it for granted.
My mom, in from New York, got to experience firsthand how magical a perfect night at the Bowl can be. Though she didn’t travel 3,000 miles to check out a show, seeing her favorite band, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, at the iconic shell was a reminder to this curmudgeon concertgoer of how intoxicating a perfect evening at the best venue in American can be. With a slew of rockers like Dave Grohl (Deryck Whibley too), and industry bigwigs on-hand (all of whom mom blew past so she wouldn’t miss the first song) and misadventures with mom aside, the sunglasses-wearing, beard-toting singer continued to prove that he’s one of the steadiest voices in rock who continues to roll gracefully into senior citizenship.
The last night of a tour is a good time for a band to assess where things are, where they were, and where they’re going. Petty’s current run isn’t like others in that traditional respect. Petty and the Heartbreakers finished celebrating their 40th anniversary as a unit with a triumphant three-night stand in the band’s adopted hometown of Los Angeles. On top of my mom being thrilled, the other 19,000-plus fans had reason to cheer as the band ran through a variety of songs from their hit-laden catalog.
In recent years, Petty and the gang have reinvented themselves as a jam band, reliable festival headlining favorite. With some of the biggest songs in rock radio that still resonate, it’s easy to understand why the band has maintained their stature. Even with crunchy solos, the band can easily and quickly pivot into a heavy jam. Throughout the night, pulling off this seemingly simple, yet often times sloppily applied feat was one of their greatest strengths.
Plowing through “Refugee,” leading a singalong to the crowd pleasing “Free Fallin’” and the sparsely played “Breakdown” is one thing, it’s an entirely different talent to delicately step on the chalk for lesser known songs. Playing a three-song mini-set of tunes from 1995’s Wildflowers album may not have elicited the smattering of applause that set closer “American Girl” received, but it was easily the most adventurous portion of the night. Some headed to get beer and to the restroom, but it was a big mistake. The riveting jam of “It’s Good to Be King” would have impressed even the most hardened of bluesman.
Unlike other classic rockers content to settle into the proverbial Sandpiper Crossing (that’s the nursing home in Better Call Saul for those eagle-eyed readers), Petty shows no sign of slowing down. “Forgotten Man” from 2014’s underrated Hypnotic Eye shows, the rocker is as keenly in touch as a more overt political rocker like Neil Young (and seriously, who would have known that the term would be the main issue of the 2016 presidential campaign?). That isn’t a slight to Young, but a praise how astute a songwriter Petty is.
Despite him saying that he’s winding down his touring days, Tom Petty didn’t look like a man ready to hang up his guitar quite yet. As fans like my mom sang and danced along to the grizzled rocker, he maintained a sharp focus on the evening’s intent — to celebrate the band’s rich history. The inspired performance wasn’t drenched in nostalgia like a 40th anniversary tour would have given him a right to be. Instead, on an idyllic night at the Bowl with a renewed vigor, Petty dazzled and if he’s going to retire soon, he’s going out in style. At least that’s what mom said.