Photos and story by Paul Piazza
Sacramento didn’t have to wait long for Tom Petty to reschedule his cancelled August 25th concert at the Golden 1 Center. The singer, who had come down with laryngitis on the home stretch of his band’s 40th anniversary tour, had to cancel the originally scheduled performance. However, he showed up just one week later and put on a mighty fine show packed with hits and some nice surprises.
This all worked out well for the packed house, who were able to witness the whole thing in air-conditioned bliss as they were sheltered from the 108-degree temperature outside. In Sacramento, people won’t back down from the heat, but being inside for a great concert is always a welcome alternative.
On this night, the singer/songwriter, who turns 67 this fall, appeared a little frail at times. However, he still rocked it to the rafters in the arena. It didn’t hurt that the Heartbreakers, his band of 40 years, were as sharp as ever. Guitarist Mike Campbell, who has been Petty’s closest collaborator, shadowed the singer for much of the night as the pair strapped on a variety of vintage guitars and played countless familiar licks and hooks while strolling across the big stage. They also rocked some fancy vintage threads.
Early in the show, Petty said, “We are going to treat tonight like a one-sided LP and drop the needle wherever we want to.” And that’s what they did as they played material that spanned four decades of music. At the age of 10, Petty turned his attention to rock n’ roll after his uncle introduced him to Elvis Presley on the set of the film Follow That Dream. He’s been immersed in music ever since.
Mike Campbell and Tom Petty
Petty is considered an icon among American rock ‘n’ roll artists. He has managed to stay artistically and creatively relevant over the years with consistently strong tracks and live performances. He’s recorded a dozen albums with the Heartbreakers as well as four excellent solo albums. Petty is so tight with his band that even most of his solo material features the Heartbreakers as the backing band.
Besides Campbell, the other original Heartbreakers include Benmont Tench on keyboards and bassist Ron Blair. Multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston joined in 1991, while drummer Steve Ferrone has been on board for a mere 22 years. (During one section of the show, they dipped into a few tracks from the 1994 solo album Wildflowers, which was Ferrone’s first recording with these musicians before he joined the Heartbreakers.)
Petty is also well known for his amazing collaborations over the years. Perhaps the most famous is with the Traveling Wilburys, which featured Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne. In 1986, he played at Cal Expo with Dylan in a brilliant show where they shared the stage and traded songs. Many consider this one of the top shows at the former local venue which was located on the same grounds as Papa Murphy’s Park, home of the Sacramento Republic.
Ron Blair and Tom Petty
On the current tour, Petty has had been playing a pretty consistent setlist. One of the standards that they had seemingly retired was “Breakdown,” a radio staple from the band’s 1976 debut. Surprisingly, on this night, the song made it into the Sacramento stage. This came as a pleasant shock to the crowd, who eagerly sang along.
In fact, just about every song turned into a singalong. From “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” to the finale of “American Girl,” one could turn in any direction and see people singing the verses to just about every tune. Petty strongly encouraged this all night long. “Do you wanna sing this one all together?” he asked before “Free Fallin'.” The answer was strong and loud in the affirmative.
Lucky for Sacramento, a little thing like laryngitis couldn’t do more than pause the 40th Anniversary tour for a singer and band who are still “runnin’ down a dream.”