Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers rolled into Noblesville,Indiana last night to play at the Klipsch Music Center and what a night it was. It was one I certainly won’t forget for years to come.
Petty first rose to prominence in the mid 70s as a part of the Heartland Music movement along with Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne among others. During a time when prog rock was trying to expand our minds and every stoner on the planet was spinning Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on repeat, Petty set out to return rock and roll to its basic form. No long and lengthy epic instrumentals or lyrics too deep to comprehend. Instead the Heartbreakers set on taking rock back to its roots with simple arrangements and lyrics that talked about life in America and the complications of everyday life. It made Petty seem human and relatable, someone you could talk to and know that he’d understand what you were going through.
In many ways he probably could. Down at heart, Petty is a humble man who knows much about the hardships of life. Raised in Florida, he was physically abused by his own father and the relationship was never on solid footing as Petty’s fame grew. His mother whom Petty adored, died when he was only 30 and not long after a crazed “fan” burnt his California home to the ground. In the 90s he faced a crippling divorce to his first, wife Janet Benyo and nearly sunk into a deep depression until he met his current wife, Dana York. Petty is no stranger to tragedy but throughout it all the music was his strongest force pushing him forward to make him into the legend we know and love today.
Petty’s opening act for part of the tour had turned up onstage at 7:30 and did about an hour set. While the band was fine and had a good sound, most of the people were wafting around the center and not paying them any mind. Others were antsy for Petty and were just ready for them to get off the stage.
Petty finally came onstage at around 9pm, a little later than scheduled but no one was worse for the wear because of it. It was probably due to the fact that the center uses large cameras to project Petty and the bands images onscreen for the people sitting far away from the stage and it was too light at 8:30 to do so efficiently. Petty walked out onstage smiling and waving to crowd, followed by the rest of the band. He looked good, better than he had in years. Still skinny as ever, he was dressed in mauve colored dress pants, a black silk shirt and a blue fitted suit jacket that was quickly stripped away and tossed to the side due to the Indiana humidity. With a nod to Mike Campbell on his left, they instantly went into their set. Petty who in recent interviews has stated that he was getting tired of playing the same songs over and over, has definitely switched it up on this tour to include some well known but lesser played songs. He even brought out the acoustic guitar to play “Melinda” and let Mike Campbell rip into a fiery extended solo before Benmont Tench launched into one of his own. Petty is a man of few words and just likes to get out onstage and do his job. And get the job done he did. At 62, Petty sounds the same as he always did and has boundless energy for a man his age, walking the stage back and forth and bringing the crowd to its feet.
The crowd was actually the largest one to ever be assembled at Klipsch and the energy could be felt throughout the arena. I can only imagine how Petty and the band must have felt looking out into the sea of people singing their songs back to them. To have the knowledge that so many people are there to see you and to know they love you must be a powerful feeling. I myself even got a bit weepy during “Learning to Fly,” when Petty broke away from the mike and let the crowd finish the song, with him intoning bits of it as they went along. It may have been the stench of second hand pot and stale beer making my eyes water but I think nostalgia might have been the root cause. I can remember being in high school and coming home to put on a Tom Petty record and letting his music wash over me. Petty made me proud to be an American, knowing that here was this skinny little blonde headed guy who grew up in total obscurity in Gainesville, Florida to become one of the biggest names in music history. I too grew up in a small town where not very many people make it out of and listening to his music, I thought here is a man who understands me and I think that’s why Petty is still so popular today. His music is down to earth and is on a level that most can comprehend. The arrangements are simple but the lyrics paint such a picture in your mind that it’s infectious.
As the show came to a close, Petty placed his hand over his heart and thanked the crowd saying that he loved us all and as I left the arena I felt that love. Whether or not Petty knows it, his music has touched the lives of so many people including my own that he’ll live on forever. Music is a powerful thing and will never die away. So god bless you Tom Petty and thanks for the memories!
The Setlist from the show:
Rock and Roll Star
Love is a Long Road
I Won’t Back Down
Here Comes My Girl
Last Dance With Mary Jane
Listen to Her Heart
Tweeter and the Monkey Man
You Wreck Me
Learning to Fly
You’re So Bad
I Should Have Known It
Running Down a Dream
Don’t Come Around Here No More
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