June 9, 2013
The Fonda Theatre
Hollywood, CA USA
Review by Ron Lewis
Photos by Ron Lewis
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
"Free Falling" with a Hero
For five special nights in early June, including one particularly awkward one, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers delivered an interesting glimpse into the group's 37-year musical history. The journey also included stops along the way to include the singer's popular solo projects. Adding to the mystique of these intimate gatherings was the ever-changing nightly set lists. On any given evening, the band could whip out a '60's or '70s rock standard, a classic blues cut, or just a personal favorite. Throw in some deep cuts off previous TPTH albums no one would ever expect, and you had crowds primed for the ultimate musical adventure.
The Fonda Theatre, where these special gatherings took place, was an ideal location for the approximate 1300 fans attending the nightly performances to do a little 'free falling' with their hero. The full-on value this intimate venue provided brought everyone up close and personal with Petty and provided the faithful a whole new experience that an arena or festival could never duplicate. There was no 'breakdown' between audience and band, nor did Tom ever offer to even sing about it.
I attended the Sunday 'worship service' that less than 22 hours earlier had been emptied by an overzealous fire marshal claiming the building had been oversold. Electronic records would later vindicate the venue and promoter, but that was of little comfort to the pilgrims that had flocked to the Fonda to shower the band with devotion and pay their respects.
Petty dutifully addressed the previous night's incident by saying, "Sorry last night ended early. It was not my fault, but rest assured, we will be playing till the end tonight!" It was followed by a loud round of applause. But TP wasn't finished. "Were any of you here last night? Please know that if I have to I will personally pay for each one of your tickets." An undeterred he did indeed make good on his pledge and later offered full refunds to every ticket holder who attended the abbreviated June 8 performance. The pedestal fans already had placed their hero on rose even higher with the unselfish gesture.
The band's rendition of The Byrds' "So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star" was the cover tune chosen to not only open this show, but every night of the Fonda Theater run. Petty appeared to genuinely enjoy the intimacy the venue provided for both the band and their fans. He smiled several times throughout the night and actually made eye contact with his audience. The Heartbreakers sound and light show, although scaled back to conform to the site's relatively tight dimensions, worked perfectly.
In selecting one of Los Angeles' oldest and most historic theaters in which to present his music, Petty was intent to reward these die-hard fans with a show they would not soon forget. Early in the set, the Heartbreakers played an extremely well done cover of J.J. Cale's bluesy "Thirteen Days" (they also performed Cale's "I'd Like to Love You Baby" on other nights) that Petty proclaimed to be a 'favorite song of mine.' " The band's rendition of the 1954 Willie Dixon blues classic, "I Just Want to Make Love to You" was also a show stopper. Muddy Waters, Foghat and a host of other artists that have covered that tune in the past would have been proud.
Outside of the five cover tunes the band performed, the set list also included several selections from Petty's solo works. Applying the term "solo" to the singer's three recordings is a bit of a misnomer considering sidekick Mike Campbell was always playing guitar on these outings. Other members of the Heartbreakers were only a phone call away as well. That was particularly the case for Petty's brilliant 1994 Wildflowers project where the boss man actually hired his own band to be his session players. Tonight, the Heartbreakers performed four cuts from this masterpiece, including "House in the Woods", "It's Good to be King", "Honey Bee" and the title track. Overall, Petty would perform five more additional tunes from this album over the course of his residency at the Fonda.
Tonight's performance, like the other shows the band would perform, eschewed many of the hits such as "Don't Come Around Here No More", "I Won't Back Down," "The Waiting", "Into the Great Wide Open" and "Learning to Fly". They were passed over so lesser known cuts like "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me) from the Hard Promises album, "The Best of Everything" from the Southern Accents or the tracks "I Should Have Known It" or "Good Enough" from 2010's Mojo. There would be other hidden gems the band would unearth at every performance that would truly delight the 'in-the-know' audiences.
Most the 7,800 people who witnessed Petty and the Heartbreakers five-night stand purchased tickets through a carefully controlled lottery that quite effectively prevented rampant ticket scalping. I'm not saying the people who did purchase their tickets from brokers weren't true fans, because let's face it, when you pay above market price for a ticket, you aren't doing it just so you can say you were there. The band means something to you. And tonight, like every night during this homestand, Petty and his band were surrounded by an extended family that had long ago welcomed these talented musicians into their hearts and homes.
Again, the set lists varied from performance to performance. One night you might experience covers like the Grateful Dead's "Friends of the Devil", Little Feat's "Willin'" or Chuck Berry's rocking numbers ""Carol" or "Around and Around". The same show, you could be treated to hidden treats like "Two Gunslingers" and "King's Highway" from Into the Great Wide Open, "When a Kid Goes Bad" and "Have Love Will Travel from The Last DJ. With every cover the band did of "Baby, Please Don't Go" by Big Joe Williams or the Ray Charles classic, "I've Got a Woman", the band would come back with "Billy the Kid" from Echo or "Angel Dream" from the band's movie soundtrack project for the 1996 motion picture, She's the One.
For some reason, no music from the 1982 album Long After Dark, or '87s Let Me Up (I've Had Enough), made appearances on any of the five nightly set lists performed. It's ironic considering both albums featured No. 1 hits in "You Got Lucky" and "Jammin' Me" that Petty co-wrote with Bob Dylan. Petty made up for the oversight to his Travelling Wilbury brother by covering "Knockin' on Heaven's Door".
Careful not to disappoint the true believers, Petty and the Heartbreakers ended the show in stellar fashion with four iconic songs, "Refugee", "Running Down a Dream", "Mary Jane's Last Dance", and of course, the encore "American Girl." A completely satisfied crowd exited the Fonda with the knowledge they had indeed witnessed a small miracle.
I don't know if these types of mini-runs are planned for other cities in the future, but if Petty does indeed announce he's coming your way, make sure you are 'a face in the crowd'.