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rock nyc remembers Tom Petty: His 2013 Greatest Concert, Music For The Operating Table, And the 40th Anniversary Show

(Editors Note: With the untimely passing of Tom Petty yesterday, I chose three of our many reviews to commemorate his life. First, my 2013 best show ever at the Beacon Theater. Next,Paula Iwamoto-Schaap listens to Tom Petty in the operating room, and finally Ken Davis takes us back to just this past June -IL).

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers At Beacon Theater, Thursday, May 23rd, 2013, Reviewed by Iman Lababedi

The Heartbreakers residency at the Beacon Theater? Must be an Allman Brother’s like May Madness, right? The Southerners spreading their wings with extended jams, switched up sets every night, deep album tracks, cover songs. Petty sells himself as a Southerner but he is really a Floridian, Gainsville is a college town, and Petty is a child of the British invasion and simultaneous folk rock explosion. The Southern groove band tag came a couple of albums in and while people of good faith may disagree, I preferred the new wave rocker for the most part -with the wrong songs Petty could bore you silly. So if Petty’s concept for this tour was to perform a my back pages which would allow him to highlight his superb backing band, Petty could’ve ended up face down in the ground performing slack rockers. It might have been an act of extended somnambulism.

It was good. Very good. Great. It wasn’t the covers that pulled Petty on a whole other level, but it felt as though it was. A roaring blasting “Mystic Eye” pulled out of 1965 with more power than flair, it was anchored by Scott Thurston’s heart pounding harp. If you go back to the original, the harp is the point of the bluesy insanity, but Petty’s own harp on the nine minute workout from the Live Anthology doesn’t quite pull it off. Moving it like Jagger on Thursday night, Petty unencumbered by his ubiquitous guitar, danced across the stage banging a tambourine and then arms outstretched. “Tweeter And The Monkey Man”, Petty has been playing all tour and the same with set opener “So You Wanna Be A Rock N Roll Star” but “Willin'”? Who can write enough about Lowell George? How great to hear a Little Feat song. George died at 34 years old from heart failure, but when it comes to Southern boogie the man was among the best ever and Petty and the Heartbreakers do him proud. The man sitting beside me was of a certain age and sedately enjoying the set but Lowell got him off his butt.

So there is that and there is lead guitarist Mike Campbell. On what is the definition of Petty’s concept for this tour (and this night), they play “Have Love, Will Travel” off The Last DJ -a pretty good but not exactly memorable album, Campbell breaths life into the track with a devastating solo right in its heart. A smooth, hard riff powers the band forward and it is set highlight. Just as good is Mike’s finger picked solo on “Tweeter”.

And anyway, Petty isn’t married to the obscurities all new songs concept though it helps him bring a freshness to the hits. The first two songs of the night haven’t changed all tour and the last song has remained constant (“This is where it all began”, I’ll leave you to figure out which song) And another three songs are plotted along the line. That leaves a mammoth 14 songs for him to add or subtract to taste. And that means that three songs in he performs “Don’t Do Me Like That” for the first time in decades.

Thrilled to hear the masterpiece doesn’t begin to describe my feeling and Petty does it nice and sincere. The song seems slight lyrically but it is a perfect example of a song written to be sung. The second verse trips over your lips: “Listen baby can’t you see, Baby you’d bury me, if you were in the public eye…” it’s the “public” that makes it a joy to singalong to. It is written in highlights of sound, the iteration of the “buh” is such fun to to swing yourself into. This is anthem lyricism. Petty isn’t warning the girl, he is begging her, and when you sing it you keep landing right where he wants you to. Right where he has placed it for you: the song is a gift to non singers and Petty… to see him play it live after years of just worshiping the song. What a blast!

Petty skimps on the other hits but “Refugee” was righteous and I didn’t walk out making a mental list of what I didn’t hear that I loved -and I didn’t hear most. He managed to make me forget through a lively, inviting performance. The (relatively) intimate surroundings and great acoustics worked for him. And on what should have been the mid show lull, “Walls” and “Angel Dream 2” had a revelation of a “Rebels” on side and “Willin'” on the other. The band are Florida rockers and while there are extended solo there is no 26 minute songs (the way Neil Young performed at MSG last year). They aren’t concise but they aren’t indulgent. They make the point for older songs, they are performed very well with drummer Steve Feronne working extremely diligently to maintain the pace without looping off.

The set itself was well constructed. Around the half way mark Petty follows “Tweeter” with an obscure Zombies cover -the Zombies are playing a free gig at Summerstage on June 15th and the Brit Invasion blues band (you know em from “She’s Not There”) fit in so well next to the Dylan song from Petty’s Willburys days. The two blues songs are both great and work make a real tandem. There is a couple of acoustic songs round the two thirds mark and then the band pulls out with the loudest song of the evening “Mystic Eyes”. These things don’t happen by accident, believe me!

Petty both sounded and looked terrific, just terrific. At 62 years of age, he was handsome, fit, his voice so tender and with so much power. Gorgeous voice and he appears to have lost none of it. From the softer songs to the full throated “Refugee” he was well on top of his game. I saw him six years ago at the Prudential and he was half asleep, I walked out in the middle. And indeed I had written a post about how I wasn’t going to waste my time with the residency. He’d screwed me over once too often and, essentially because I wanted rock nyc to have a review, changed my mind.

Holy hell -Petty did us like that.

Grade: A


Tom Petty Songs for the Operating Room by Paula Iwamoto-Schaap

A couple of months ago, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with acute appendicitis and found myself being wheeled into an operating room. As they were preparing to put me under, music was already playing over the room speakers. While I know that many surgeons like to have music playing while they operate (most memorably, William Hurt’s character in the movie The Doctor always began his surgeries to the tune of Jimmy Buffet’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw)”, this was the first time I’d heard of the music starting before the patient (meaning me) was knocked out. “The playlist today is courtesy of the doctor,” one of the nurses told me cheerfully.

It was a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song. It continued playing as I drifted into la-la land. And now I have absolutely no memory of which Tom Petty song it was. I know that anesthesia often results in amnesia, and that’s a good thing, because who wants to remember what happens immediately before and after they cut you open? But it’s been driving me me crazy, trying to remember which song it was.

So I started thinking about the possibilities, and which Tom Petty songs would be well-suited to performing surgery, and which would probably be a bad choice.

“American Girl”: good tempo, nice Bo Diddley riffs that would keep everyone awake and on their toes. But the line, “And if she had to die…” Hmm, maybe not a good tune for the OR!

“Breakdown”: too hypnotic, too slow. Don’t want your surgeon to start drifting off or get so mesmerized that he can’t remember if he tied off that suture or not.

“Don’t Come Around Here No More”: highly inappropriate for the OR. In the video for the song, Tom Petty (looking very menacing) and Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics turn Alice in Wonderland into a cake, cut into her, and EAT her. ‘Nuff said.

“Free Fallin’”: maybe. It’s a special song for me personally, with all of its references to the San Fernando Valley, where I was born. Lilting and lyrical, it would keep that surgery flowing smoothly.

“I Won’t Back Down”: steady beat, medium tempo, could be good. Its message of defiance and optimism is usually leveled at “The Man,” but could also be a rallying cry against the tyranny of an appendix abruptly gone bad.

“Runnin’ Down a Dream”: nice upbeat lyrics, but it’s a little amped up for surgery. I always start driving faster when this song comes on the radio, and you wouldn’t want your surgeon to start cutting faster in a similar fashion.

“The Waiting”: this is what you’ve already done before the surgery, so by the time you’re in the OR, it’s over. It definitely is the hardest part, of course. “You take it on faith/you take it to the heart” is certainly something you have to do when you consent to letting other people knock you unconscious and remove your body parts.

“You Don’t Know How It Feels”: too much harmonica for the OR? I might worry that the surgeon would apply a little too much pressure on the downbeat with that scalpel. And I honestly don’t care what my doctor does in his off time, but “Let’s roll another joint” clearly shouldn’t be a directive while actually operating.

“You Got Lucky”: down and dirty and attitudinal. I kind of like it, might make the surgeon feel in control and a bit cocky. I did get lucky, in that they found a surgeon who could fit me into his outpatient surgery schedule at 4:00 in the afternoon, so I didn’t have to go to the ER.

“Mary Jane’s Last Dance”: this is my favorite Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song of all time, but I definitely wouldn’t want it playing during my surgery. Kim Basinger is DEAD throughout the entire video (though she creepily opens her eyes at the end after Tom has lovingly laid her to rest in the ocean), which just doesn’t bode well for the recovery room.

I’ve decided that “Wildflowers” would be the best Tom Petty song for the operating room. Sweet and gentle, but not sleepy (you want to be asleep during your surgery, but you don’t want your surgeon to be nodding off). “Far away from your trouble and worry/You belong somewhere you feel free.” That sounds nice, free from that pesky infected appendix.

Of course, maybe a Traveling Wilburys or Mudcrutch song would be good to lose your appendix to, but my doc went with the Heartbreakers.


Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers At the Prudential Center, Friday, June 17th, 2017, Reviewed by Ken Davis

There are few more dependable acts in rock and roll than Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. When you see them, you know what you’ll get: A band that’s tight with superb musicianship, most of the hits, a few deep track, and a great time. Friday night’s show at the Rock was no exception.

Petty opened was a somewhat obscure number, “Rockin’ Around With You”, the first track from their first album. It’s an immature song, not up the quality of his others. Probably played for nostalgia. A few other rarities: “Forgotten Man”, a story of our neglected veterans, from Mojo; “Walls” from the She’s the One soundtrack, and “Yer So Bad” , a fun song from Full Moon Fever.

No covers tonight, which was a little disappointing. However, the hits that were played were done with passion, gusto, and a tremendous sense of fun. Mike Campbell is a virtuoso on the guitar, Ben Tench and Steve Ferrone are masters. Ferrone really showed his chops when the last verse of “Free Fallin’” changes to march tempo. A surprise was the addition of two female background singers, the Bell sisters. They added a richness to the sound, but unlike other bands who expanded their lineups it wasn’t that the principle singers are too lazy or too old to hit the notes. I saw an old interview with Petty where he turned down Stevie Nicks’s offer to the join the band by telling her basically “no girls allowed”. I guess he changed his mind.

The opening act was Joe Walsh. Unfortunately we missed the first 20 minutes of his set. (My fault- shouldn’t have ordered the whole baked snapper for dinner- took too long to prepare). When Joe played his familiar hits he was lots of fun; however a long instrumental jam was pretty pointless. Joe does make an all-world guitar face.

40 years of touring has not dimmed Tom Petty’s joy and enthusiasm for his music, and I felt lucky, babe, to be able to witness it. He never mails it in.

Grade: A (as in always)

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