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


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