I’ve seen Tom Petty in concert a bunch of times, and two of those gigs are worthy of my Top 10 Concerts of All Time. Or they would be if I actually compiled my Top 10 Concerts of All Time. I’m saving that one for a rainy day.
The first time I saw Petty and his band the Heartbreakers was at Vancouver’s historic Commodore Ballroom in 1978. The group had just released its second album, You’re Gonna Get It!, and was hungry as hell. It was a lean, mean, rockin’ machine on new tunes like “When the Time Comes”, “I Need to Know”, and “Listen to Her Heart”.
The other time I got absolutely, unforgettably blown away by Petty and crew was back in ’86 at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California, when they were backing up Bob Dylan on the True Confessions Tour. What a fucking colossal pairing! It helped that I got flown down there by the promoter and driven around in a limo sipping Jack Daniels and then given backstage access so I could watch from the side of the stage. But even without the benefit of those now-extinct industry perks it would have been a show for the ages.
I’m not expecting anything quite as enthralling as those two performances when Petty plays Vancouver’s Rogers Arena tomorrow night, but hey–I’ve been wrong before. I do know that the band is touring behind a wicked new album called Hypnotic Eye that is number one in North America right now. And judging by the most recent setlists I’ve studied, some of my fave Petty tunes are destined to make an appearance.
For starters, the setlists of his last three shows–August 12 in Portland, August 9 in San Francisco, and August 7 in Eugene–all featured “Refugee”, the hook-filled hit from his 1979 Damn the Torpedoes album. That song was cowritten by Petty’s longtime guitarist Mike Campbell, one of the tastiest pickers to ever pick up a pick.
Also common to Petty’s recent West Coast gigs is “I Won’t Back Down”, the righteous number from his 1989 solo debut, Full Moon Fever. That’s the tune that Ringo played drums on–in the video, anyway. Yeah, Ringo! You’re the coolest! Thanks for that fine show at the Hard Rock Casino last month!
Another tune expected to make the cut, if the last three shows are any indication, is “Tweeter and the Monkey Man”, a rollicking track off the first album by the Traveling Wilburys, the supergroup that saw Petty in the company of Ringo’s old pal George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, and Bob Dylan. “Tweeter” was also covered quite nicely by the Headstones on its debut Picture of Health album, back in ’88 before spikey-haired lead singer Hugh Dillon became a chrome-domed regular on TV crime-dramas.
I’m not gonna list all the tunes that I suspect will make the cut tomorrow night, because I don’t wanna spoil the party for ticketholders. But I can say that Petty has been choosing some sweet covers to spice up each night, including Big Joe Williams’ “Baby, Please Don’t Go” in Portland, the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” in Frisco, and Ray Charles’ “I’ve Got a Woman” in Eugene.
Whether or not we’ll be able to say that he paid tribute to Canada by covering Bruce Cockburn’s “If a Tree Falls” in Vancouver remains to be seen. But I’m sure Tom’s people are reading this blog right now, so there’s a good chance they’ll get word to him, and he’ll start learning the pro-environment gem pronto.
It’d be so cool to hear Petty belt out the lyrics about a “parasitic greedhead scam” with his southern accent while Campbell deftly handles the jangly chords and sweet whammy bar action.
Can't you just picture it?