Last Dance with Tom Petty? Hall of Famer rocks Royal Farms Arena

Forty years ago, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers burst onto the national stage with a raw, youthful contagious energy that once again was on exhibit throughout Sunday’s night rocking performance at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore.

Petty’s uncanny ability to write timeless songs and deliver them in a distinctive voice has led to a legion of peaceful followers who just want to experience the moment or perhaps relive their youth. The 66-year-old frontman performs like he is 21. He is an ageless musician. The years may have not been a friend to so many of his fans and peers, but they had been a friend to him.

Embarking on an anniversary concert, Petty treated a sold-out, gray-haired audience with 19 songs during a two-hour set that brought fans to their feet with hits that spanned four decades. Petty didn’t waste time kicking into gear with songs like Mary Jane’s Last Dance, I Won’t Back Down, Free Fallin’, Don’t Come Around Here No More, Runnin’ Down a Dream, and his encore the classic American Girl.

The fans sang so loud during Free Fallin‘ that they drowned out Petty’s voice – but it didn’t matter. This was Baltimore’s tribute to a legend who has hinted this could be the last major tour. Yes, we heard it from so many other rockers that retirement was in the works but eventually we see them embark on world tours such as the Rolling Stones or the Eagles’ When Hell Freezes Over. Let’s hope that Petty continues to share his Dylan-like songwriting abilities with the world and doesn’t walk off into the sunset with all of his guitars that could fill a music store.

Tom Petty performs with The Heartbreakers at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore. All photos by Erik Hoffman/BPE

Petty’s humble demeanor was on display Sunday night. The musician let his lyrics talk his politics. Songs like Refugee included photos on the jumbo screens of beaten-down starving immigrants that made you think of the Trump’s travel ban and the people who America might just leave behind. It was subtle and effective without the preaching. He never comes across as if he is above anyone else and even asked those in the cheaper seats if they were doing OK, and then just said tonight, “We are going to have fun.”

And that’s what he did.

He looked as though he was a kid who just got a band together to perform their first concert. Song after song, he just picked up a guitar and played just like it was yesterday albeit he picked countless number of guitars that were earmarked for each song. You have to smile when he picked up a classic Rickenbacker along with the assortment of Fenders and Les Pauls. The roadie who tuned those guitars and made sure he had the right one deserves some props. Petty might want to give him a shout out the next time around.

Petty has learned from some of the best. He has played with some of the greatest musicians including a brief stunt in the Traveling Willburys with Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne. But while many of his friends (Orbison and Harrison) are long gone, he has survived as a throwback from another generation. He still wears his dark tinted 1970-style sunglasses – something he started sporting since 1974 when he met Harrison, Ringo Starr and Leon Russell in Los Angeles.

Petty signed on with Russell’s Shelter Records and Russell hired him to provide lyrics for musicians that would hang out. In the first session Harrison, Starr and session player Jimmy Kelter stroll in – looking quite cool, Petty said during his acceptance speech recently for the MusiCares Person of the Year Award.

“And I found myself, after the session when we were hanging out, I found myself slipping my sunglasses on.

“What the hell are you doing with the dark glasses, man?” Russell asked.

“I said, ‘It feels cool, you know, like Jimmy Keltner — he’s got his on,’” Petty responded.

“Wearing sunglasses at night is an honor you earn,’” Russell told him.

Petty certainly earned that right, as did the Heartbreakers. The band displayed some extended improvising work especially during It’s Good to be King from the 1994 Wildflowers album hat featured blazing guitar solo from whammy-bar-rocker Mike Campbell, whose performance shows why Petty wanted him in his band decades ago.

The Heartbreakers on tour are not the original Heartbreakers who along with Petty were inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2002.

Peter Wolf opened up for Tom Petty at the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore. Erik Hoffman/BPE

That Hall of Fame ceremony was the last time the original members played together. Bassist Howie Epstein performed on Mary Jane’s Last Dance during the ceremony but died just one year later. He had a long battle with heroin addiction. The Hall of Fame concert was his final time onstage with the band. It was also the last time that Stan Lynch played drums for the band.

The new Heartbreakers (Benmont Tench, keyboards; Scott Thurston, rhythm guitar and backing vocals; Ron Blair, bass; and Steve Ferrone, drums) never missed a beat. Newcomers – The Webb Sisters from Kent, England (Charley and Hattie) provided backing vocals. The sisters had toured with Leonard Cohen in 2008 and were snatched up by Petty for his anniversary gig.

Petty’s opening act, Peter Wolf, 71, still can kick it into high gear as he has done for so many years with the J. Geils Band. And his band the Midnight Travelers includes those J. Geils Band legends Duke Levine and Kevin Barry.  Wolf can still prance around the stage and remains fit as Mick Jagger while he is cutting lose.

Wolf belted out soulful versions of Lookin’ For a Love and Geils favorites Give it to Me, Cry One More Time and Start All Over Again.  It was fitting tribute to his bandmate  J. Geils who died of natural causes April 11, 2017.

If you get a chance to catch the rest of Petty’s tour – don’t miss it. It could be your last dance with Tom Petty.

Check out his tour schedule.


One thought on “Last Dance with Tom Petty? Hall of Famer rocks Royal Farms Arena

  • October 3, 2017 at 2:13 AM

    That was my last concert AND dance with Tom Petty. RIP

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