In what is known as the Capitol of Country Music – it’s only rock and roll – and they like it. Especially when it’s delivered by a good ole boy with a southern accent in the form of the rebel souled Tom Petty. It’s good to be king and this member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ruled over the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville for a little over two hours on April 25, 2017. Petty and his trusty court of Heartbreakers were on hand to celebrate 40 years of rockin’ around the States with a mixed set of fan favorites and deep cuts.
The fourth night of the current spring to summer tour de force rolled into Music City with much fan fair and some apprehension. For, while the band is out there reliably delivering the goods once again after their longest sustained break in 25 years pre-tour commentary from the man in charge was leading fans to believe this might be the last time this group of guys does this type of undertaking on such a large scale.
“We’re all on the backside of our sixties,” Petty said in published reports to announce the 40th Anniversary Tour. “I don’t want to spend my life on the road.”
Audiences can take a little solace in the fact that they are at least out there now with the promise to play a bit of everything from their complete back catalogue. In Nashville, the concert began the way their debut album did with a rousing version of “Rockin’ Around (With You)”. When an intense take on “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” was complete the intimate room of nearly 20,000 followers began to smell like a pot party. At this, Petty was seen rolling up his sleeves prior to “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and the Heartbreakers really got down to business.
Speaking of business the tour featured a lot of apparel and merchandise on sale to commemorate the band’s forty momentous years in the biz. Another important marker taking place was the twentieth anniversary of Petty’s second successful solo outing Wildflowers and the original plan for this year called for a complete airing of that record from start to finish in a live setting. While a secondary foray following this tour may address that the boys found a reasonable compromise by playing a three pack of “It’s Good to Be King”, “Time to Move On” and the title track from that release.
Earlier in the night the Heartbreakers dusted off the psychedelic song that made them video superstars on MTV. “You Got Lucky” retained the 80’s synths and contained a guitar riff from “Angel of the Morning” that had the talented Nashville faithful singing along spontaneously to its chorus while sounding like a well-rehearsed choir. Petty was impressed.
“You people are unbelievable,” Petty said during the night as he repeatedly commended the crowd, complimented their vocals, and thanked them for four-decades of support. “I wish I could hug every one of you.”
Tom Petty has done it all in his career going from bandleader, to chart-topping solo act, and working as a member of a supergroup – the Traveling Wilburys. The biggest applause of the show came from the 90’s radio staples “I Won’t Back Down”, “Free Fallin” and “Learning to Fly” – songs that all came after the Florida native had already cemented himself as a rock legend and a master songwriter – but served to propel him into superstardom territory.
“The great thing is that you always come back,” Petty said during the show’s encore still seemingly amazed that people keep returning to see what many have called America’s greatest rock band time and time again. Ticket holders will find an expanded outfit on this run with two female powerhouse backup singers adding the right amount of brawn and beauty to Petty’s classics. Also in the lineup are returning bass player Ron Blair; the new guy on drums – Steve Ferrone; and, jack of all trades Scott Thurston. They joined Tom’s right and left hand men Mike Campbell on incendiary lead guitar and the incomparable Benmont Tench on keyboard – both who have gone the full forty year distance with Petty at the helm.
The nearly two-hour main set closed out with the obligatory “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “Refugee” that had the house lights up and the attendees on their feet. “You Wreck Me” put the punctuation mark on the rock portion of the night before the singers in the crowd had one more chance to join Petty and company on “American Girl” – possibly for the very last time, Mary Jane.
The trek continues through the summer with a rare one-off European showcase at Hyde Park in London where the Heartbreakers will share the stage with their longtime friend Stevie Nicks. This show will complete the circle for Tom and the boys who got their first taste of success on an early excursion into England when they were embraced as part of the new Wave of American Punk when they launched in the 70’s. This label stuck for awhile and occurred mainly because of the band’s leather clad photo featured on their debut album. Soon though the world would learn the TPATHB were more a blues based classic rock band than anything else and they quickly shed that misplaced moniker. With four decades of hindsight it’s clear that their records belonged in the same bins as the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen and not the Sex Pistols or Ramones.
Opening for Petty on select dates is fellow rock royalty Joe Walsh who has hit it big in two bands and also as a solo artist himself. He offered a song for his fallen Eagles brother Glenn Frey when he played “Take It to the Limit”. His well-received hour-long opening set featured a large band with two drummers and backing singers who helped the acclaimed guitarist run through his greatest hits that included “Meadows”, “In the City”, “Funk #49”, “Life’s Been Good”, “Rocky Mountain Way” and more.
The Bridgestone Arena in the heart of downtown Nashville is home ice for the Predators. It also hosts a wide array of sporting and musical events such as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Upcoming events at the venue include Daryl Hall & John Oates, Iron Maiden, James Taylor, Queen + Adam Lambert, John Mayer, Roger Waters and Professional Bull Riding.