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Tom Petty & The Heart Breakers @ Golden 1 Center, Sacramento CA 09/01/17

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Tom Petty. A master. Like others have written, there is something uniquely American and easily recognizable about Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ sound. It’s a classic sound, not old, but classic. Classic and as uniquely American as baseball, Coca-Cola, and the Fender Stratocaster guitar. Defying time and trends, this group has maintained a swampy Southern mystique and scored hits across the decades. As sacrilege as it sounds, I never owned any Tom Petty material, yet somehow I grew to know and love many of those gem-like tunes thanks to terrestrial radio, MTV and VH1. There were glimmers of folk, country, delta blues and Memphis Soul in these songs. His vocal style is one that shouldn’t be pleasing to the ear yet it is – a Floridian drawl and a nasal quality that weaves from baritone to alto and that can distinctly fit the rockers, the ballads and everything in between.

We had plans to see the group in Sacramento on the originally scheduled date of 8/25. The show rapidly sold out and I kicked myself for not getting on the ticket purchase more quickly. Come to find out, Tom Petty came down with Laryngitis and had to postpone the show to a new date of 9/1. Some ticket holders weren’t able to commit to the new date…low and behold, some seats were now available. As fate would have it, we sold our tickets to a San Diego Coldplay show for October and it allowed us some freedom to buy into this 9/1 Tom Petty makeup date. Never would we have thought this would be one of Tom Petty’s final performances.

The Golden 1 Center is Sacramento’s band new indoor arena. It replaced the Sleep Train/Arco Arena which closed in December of 2016. The Golden 1 was a polished and striking venue, and it still smelled new. What struck us in very positive ways were the ease of entrance and the quick flow of the concessions lines. This had to be the easiest entrance we ever experienced. We planned our evening fairly well and worked out the logistics. We stayed at a hotel a short two blocks away, 5 minute walk. We were able to safely stroll down during the heatwave without discomfort. As walkers we didn’t have to worry about congested traffic, nor did we have any issues with transients or weirdos (the bad kind of weirdos). As we made our way to the front doors, I spotted a familiar looking man, with long straight hair and a lanky figure. There was something crazy familiar about the way he moved. I said to my wife, man…that looks like the singer for Tesla. We looked at each other, puzzled, and she said “well go ask him!” So I sheepishly approached him and yes, it was Jeff Keith! He came to see the show with who I presume is his wife. Jeff was such a gracious man, he stopped to chat with us and even introduced himself to my wife. He was all smiles and didn’t mind pausing to have a few words with a fan and snap a picture. Very cool and random experience. They went their separate way and we entered the venue. We made our way upstairs and sampled the drinks. The concessions lines flowed with super efficiency. Sure the prices are steep, but that’s to be expected and the house needs to make their money. I was impressed by the variety of alcohol, extensive menu and friendly staff. It was cool to have such an easy and welcoming experience at an arena

I called TM and requested aisle seats in the first few rows of the upper section. We got lucky with 3rd row aisle seats halfway back from the stage, upper level. We had a great vantage point without being too far away from the stage. Fans will want to slap me, but I was afraid that we were going to receive a tired and aged Tom Petty. Granted, Petty and the Heartbreakers have been in the business for 40 years – but some veteran acts have more energy and spirit than others. That foolish assumption quickly melted away as we witnessed an engaging and chatty Tom Petty, all smiles and committed to a kick-ass performance. There was no indication that he had been ill, nor did he mention the canceled, original date. At the beginning of the set, Petty mentioned that they were playing as if the set was an LP and they were going to drop the needle wherever they wanted. The show opened with “Rockin Around With You” off of the first album, a rollicking opening. My wife and I are casual listeners at best. Even without great familiarity with the songs or lyrics, we still knew or at least recognized the majority of the selections performed. It was a generous 2 hour set spanning decades, and it flew by quickly. It didn’t feel like 2 hours at all. There were 19 songs performed, a very strong set with no filler. The group has such a rich, lengthy history, they constructed a lean yet ample set and still had to omit several classics like “Into the Great Wide Open,” “The Wait,” “You Got Lucky,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Even the Losers,” etc. etc. etc. With all the strong material available, the group could easily construct a three hour show but would likely slump over from exhaustion by the end of the set. The crowd went nuts. One could feel the heart, the love for this group. The volume swell was super impressive, the energy within the arena continued to build and build. And the smell of reefer began to permeate the Golden 1. A grinning and appreciative Tom Petty coyly exclaimed “I feel a little mojo building up in here! Can ya feel it!?” The performances were very good. The group didn’t miss a step, performing all those classics with equal parts ease and passion. Bassist Ron Blair and keyboard player Benmont Trench have been mainstays with the Heart Breakers since the beginning. Utility man Scott Thurston has been playing with the group since the 1990s, the same with drumming great, Steve Ferrone. There’s a Duran Duran connection: Steve played drums on the studio version of “Ordinary World.” “I Won’t Back Down” was dedicated to the people of Houston who were experiencing some of the worst flooding in the city’s and the nation’s history. “Learning To Fly” was delicately performed with a lone acoustic guitar, the audience blending their voices with Petty’s for a sweet and stripped down rendition. At another point in the show, Petty recounted how he first met guitarist Mike Campbell at a scary old house in Gainsville. Petty said that he paid a friend to drive him over to this dilapidated house and he went in alone. After hearing Campbell rip through “Johnny B. Good,” Petty told us with that classic Cheshire grin, “I don’t know who you are, man, but you’re in my band forever!” The gig was fun and it was filled with timeless music, performed by living legends that showed no indication of slowing down. The songs flew over with bounce and rumble, like the feel of a weathered train chugging along, reliable and solid. As a kid, my first introduction to the music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” it was the trippy and comical video that started it all for me. I was like, who’s this guy in the Mad Hatter outfit!? As for the music, it was the lyrics and the new wave elements that got me, as well as that cool drum riff on the toms. Little did I know the sound was thanks in part to Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, who also played the part of the Caterpillar in the video. And from there, the music of Tom Petty weaved in and out of my musical world by way of MTV and classic rock FM radio. The music of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers is like a natural fixture: There’s a magical permanence to this music, mandatory listening. You have to experience it. It was a treat seeing another master like Tom Petty live. And the love from the crowd is evident and breathtaking.

  • Rockin Around With You
  • Mary Jane’s Last Dance
  • You Don’t Know How It Feels
  • Forgotten Man
  • Breakdown
  • I Won’t Back Down
  • Free Fallin’
  • Walls
  • Don’t Come Around Here No More
  • It’s Good to be King
  • Crawling Back To You
  • Wildflowers
  • Learning To Fly
  • Yer So Bad
  • I Should Have Known It
  • Refugee
  • Runnin’ Down a Dream
  • You Wreck Me
  • American Girl
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Bone Bash XVI: Def Leppard/Styx/Tesla @ Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View CA 09/19/15

Bone Bash is the annual super gig put on by KSAN 107.7 The Bone. I had always wanted to see Tesla and Def Leppard perform, more so Def Lep. To me they were one of the few groups that successfully married pop and metal, even though calling them pop could be an insult to most fans. The first opener was the mighty Tesla and they didn’t disappoint. I’ve been wanting to see these guys for a while now, I kick myself for missing a local gig a couple years ago. Tesla is unique because they emerged during the mid 80s hair metal/glam era and remained down to Earth the whole time: authentic rock n’ roll – no frills, no bullshit, blue collar rock. While the Sunset Strip acts were sporting spandex, make-up, lace and leather, Tesla retained an almost hippie throwback kind of look and philosophy. Jeans, t-shirts, solid playing ability (and good hair) were all they needed. Tesla plays aggressive, bluesy jams on guitar, bass and drums with the occasional folk inspired acoustic gems (think of the acoustic material on Led Zeppelin III), and they’re from California too 🙂 Props to Tesla for having 4 of the original 5 members still in their line-up. They’ve been performing for 28 years and could probably do a gig in their sleep. The band was tight, professional and I expected nothing less. The set was too short but it was a great introduction for a newbie like me. Tesla is still releasing new music and they’re isn’t a bad album in their discography. Jeff was very appreciative at the turn out, the amphitheater was filling to capacity as the band tore into their opening set. Jeff Keith is something else, he’s a mover onstage, dancing and slinking around the stage like some flower child from Woodstock. He’s received some flak recently for his vocal delivery, his tone in particular. He still has that bluesy rasp suited for rock music and it didn’t sound bad at all, maybe a bit tighter sounding (higher in pitch), but it’s still him, and not bad for being a guy in his 50s. The band was very good, with Frank Hannon and Dave Rude doing some very cool counter melodies on their guitars. Troy Lucketta and Brian Wheat laid down a solid groove and kept the Shoreline thumping. It would be so cool to see these guys in a small theater or even a decent sized club. Great all around rock group.

  1. Edison’s Medicine
  2. Hang Tough
  3. Heaven’s Trail
  4. Signs
  5. Little Suzi
  6. Love Song
  7. Modern Day Cowboy

Next came STYX. Holy sh*t…I will never, EVER, mock this group again. They stole the show, hands down. They turned Bone Bash into a Styx gig. EVERYBODY knew those songs, sang their drunken hearts out, and applauded these performers as if they were heroes. I was there to see Def Leppard and Tesla, but damn, Styx slayed the crowd and won my respect over and over. They performed as if they were in their 30s, not a sign of aging. The vocals were on par with the studio versions, and the performances were mind-blowing. I had no idea their songs were so intricate, complicated, epic and entertaining. I remember hearing Styx songs on FM radio in the car as a kid, riding around with dad, listening to the local classic rock station. That was my only connection with this group. I also remember passing them off as a lamer, wimpier, more pretentious version of Yes (if that’s even possible). But seeing them live totally shattered that unfair stereotype. Original bassist Chuck Ponazzo was on hand for this gig, as were classic line up members James Young and Tommy Shaw. Ex Babys/Bad English bassist Ricky Phillips was onstage and has played with this lineup for a number of years, as well as power-house drummer Todd Sucherman. Sucherman played amazingly, regularly pulling off intricate, complex patterns on the toms and cymbals, and while playing traditional grip. Their overall mix was crystal clear, better quality sound than Tesla, and Styx didn’t have to hide behind any distortion unlike some other hard rock groups. Their playing was so precise and clean, especially Sucherman on drums. He was pulling off very fast passages with double strokes, cascading up and down the toms, crashes and splashes, sometimes while cross-armed. Hell of a drummer. And the even bigger surprise was Lawrence Gowan on keys and vocals. That man sounds eerily like Dennis DeYoung, almost indistinguishable, and he was a great performer onstage, full of energy and enthusiasm. His voice was so compelling, no wonder the entire crowd sang along and hung on to every word. And shockingly enough, it made me sentimental and made me think of when I was a kid, listening to the radio with my dad in his ’70 Chevy Monte Carlo. Damned Styx. Connecting with me like that.  I’d love to see these guys again with a full set and their own production.

  1. The Grand Illusion
  2. Too Much Time On My Hands
  3. Fooling Yourself
  4. Miss America
  5. Lady
  6. Blue Collar Man
  7. Rocket Man/Bohemian Rhapsody/Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay
  8. Come Sail Away
  9. Rockin’ The Paradise
  10. Renegade

Def Leppard was the closer for this gig. I was so excited to finally see Def Leppard, one of the few 80s metal acts that I still gave a damn about. I was a big fan of the Hysteria/Adrenalize/Retroactive era. As a kid, I loved that Marshall sound on guitar and Joe Elliot’s voice. And the poppy and anthemic choruses made them all the more fun to listen to. In the early 90s I was mostly listening to Metallica, Van Halen, Queensryche and Guns n’ Roses. But I still had a soft spot for Def Leppard as well. The group put on a very good show, but unlike their counterparts in Tesla and Styx, it was most evident that age was catching up with Def Leppard. Don’t get me wrong, the guys in the group are healthy and still look good, although Phil Collin doesn’t count, that bastard, but you could hear it in Joe Elliot’s voice and some of the guitar parts strayed quite a bit from the studio originals, not necessarily a bad thing, but different. Joe still has much of his vocal range, however there was a thinner quality to his singing. That’s the picky gripe that I have about the singing. But Joe’s vocals were still very strong. What was sorely missing were stronger background vocals. Kudos to the guys for pulling off the backing vocals live, a fact they’ve always championed, but what adds to the magic and mystique of the Def Leppard sound are the high pitched backgrounds (I know that’s Joe’s voice multi-tracked 20 or 30 times, but still). It was great to see Vivian Campbell performing, the group initially announced that he wouldn’t be well enough to join this tour, but he’s undergoing cancer treatments while on the road and looking well, all things considering. He was smiling and having a good time. The big wow moment for me was witnessing Rick Allen on drums and seeing the up-close camera shots of his footwork. I had no idea the man played so many pedal triggers, I always figured he had the kick drum pedal and a trigger for his snare. But no, there had to be at least 6 or 7 pedals in succession, all triggering various sounds, including two kicks. And it was something else seeing his feet speed up during his solo piece at the end of Switch 626. Joe had a nice solo spot with “Two Steps Behind.” However I think the electric version crushes the acoustic version like a grape. LOVE the electric version. The only other gripe about the show was the sound of Allen’s triggered snare, it was thin sounding and lacked punch. The other big part of Def Lep’s sound is that infectious back-beat and the classic Leppard triggered snare sound, and it was missing in this night’s mix. And the tempo to “Let’s Get Rocked” was too damn fast. Still an awesome concert, crazy good triple bill. Styx definitely out played and out entertained the headliner though.

  1. Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)
  2. Animal
  3. Let It Go
  4. Foolin’
  5. Promises
  6. Love Bites
  7. Armageddon It
  8. Rock On
  9. Two Steps Behind
  10. Rocket
  11. Bringin’ on the Heartbreak
  12. Switch 625
  13. Hysteria
  14. Let’s Get Rocked
  15. Pour Some Sugar on Me
  16. Rock of Ages
  17. Photograph

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