Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Best of Everything: A Breakdown of My Eight Concert Journey with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers


You know that you have seen a band too many times when you accidentally hand the security guard a ticket for that group’s last show at the venue from 28 days earlier. (That is also when you know that you have to clean out your wallet.) Since 2008, I have seen Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers seven times and their quasi-appearance as Mudcrutch once. Despite hearing the same band play some of the same songs in similar places, it has allowed for an unexpectedly diverse and interesting experience:

Tom Petty and the Hearbreakers, SPAC 6/23/13
The Venues – Tom Petty usually plays at the Wells Fargo Center when he comes to Philadelphia. so naturally I have watched the Heartbreakers there more times (five) than any other place. The different venues have stood out as the most treasured shows. Newark’s Prudential Center was a fun Friday road trip, but the best facility was the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, a gorgeous amphitheater in upstate New York.

Seeing Petty, Mike Campbell, and Benmont Tench with Mudcrutch in 2016 at the relatively intimate Fillmore in Philadelphia was the most amazing experience to date. Despite a 40-year run as the Heartbreakers, those three musicians played new material as part of a reunion with some of their former bandmates. It was a Tom Petty show where no Heartbreakers songs were played, but it was also the most fun because it was a completely new listening experience from a group of virtuoso players.

The Openers - I have always appreciated when a band enlists a good opener because it makes the concert experience more complete. My first-ever opening band was The Pretenders and other greats have included the Arctic Monkeys, Sharon Jones, and Trombone Shorty.

Over just six separate Tom Petty tours Steve Winwood (twice), Buddy Guy, The Wallflowers, The Shelters, Peter Wolf (twice), and Joe Walsh have all opened for the Heartbreakers or Mudcrutch. Of those great artists, Joe Walsh and Buddy Guy were by far the two best performers. My memory of Buddy Guy will always be him playing guitar as he walked around the entire floor of the Wells Fargo Center. Joe Walsh’s set contained his best solo material and was so mind-blowing that I felt emotionally drained after the show.

Steve Winwood was also amazing. One of rock’s great journeymen, he joined the Heartbreakers for the Spencer Davis Group’s rollicking “Gimme Some Lovin’” during two separate stops in Philadelphia. In 2014, the crowd was also fortunate enough to watch the Heartbreakers and Winwood play Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home.”  

The Songs - Over eight concerts I have seen the band play 154 total songs. The Heartbreakers played 50 different songs during seven shows and Mudcrutch played 20 songs at the Fillmore. Discounting Mudcrutch, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Free Fallin’,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Learning to Fly,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “Refugee,” “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” and “American Girl” have made an appearance at every show. Hearing so many of the same songs has its pluses and minuses. There are some that I will never tire of hearing (“Mary Jane’s Last Dance”) and those that I would be fine never listening to again (“Free Fallin’”), but ultimately it is hard to argue with the rush of 20,000 people singing along to every word of a hit.

Sometimes a live performance creates an appreciation for a track. Prior to the 2017 tour, Long After Dark’s “You Got Lucky” was a tune from the Greatest Hits album that I could skip over. Hearing the Heartbreakers’ synthiest track in concert surprisingly gave the song a completely new sound to me and allowed it to work its way into my recent listening rotation.

The rarities are the most fun. I know not everyone at the show came to hear “Girl on LSD” or “Sweet William,” but the times that I have been able to listen to songs like that have added a great highlight to each concert.  

What’s Left - The fan in me will likely feel somewhat incomplete. I have struck out seven times in the off-chance that the Heartbreakers will play my favorite song, “Swingin’.” While I never expect to hear it, the slight hope that it has been added to the set is always in the back of my mind and at the forefront of my bucket list when I go to a concert. 

Is seeing one band this many times overindulgent and excessive? Probably. Will I still go to a Heartbreakers concert every time I can? Without question. They are my favorite band and seeing them live this often has been a unique experience. Big arenas do not always provide an audience with the chance to enjoy some of the nuances that a great band is capable of. Seeing the Heartbreakers multiple times has allowed me to develop a greater understanding of a special group of musicians and I have savored each chance to go to a show. I can’t wait for the next tour. 

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