So far in concert this year I've seen the Stone Temple Pilots, Everclear, Eric Clapton, Robert Plant, and The Black Crowes to name a few. In my life I've seen many more than that. Almost all of these concerts were incredibly good, sometimes amazing (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss singing "Killing the Blues"? Unbelievable!) but there has been nothing more stunning than seeing Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Prudential Center last night.
For the past week I had been prepared to see something spectacular. The Heartbreakers are my all time favorite band and I have yet to hear a song that's not up to par with the stellar classics in the Tom Petty collection. Everything from their self-titled first album to the latest Petty solo venture, "Highway Companion" has been uniquely powerful in some way. For the past two years I have been aware of Tom Petty's absolute brilliance to a maximum degree. I'm sorry to say it's been so short, my loss, but once I caught on to what I was missing out on - well I think it's safe to say I caught on in a big way.
I'm more than proud to say that I think Tom Petty is the best lyricist of his generation and the most interesting singer I've ever heard. Amazingly, those things are not even the highest points of his versatile talent. Mr. Tom Petty can command a stage like nobody's business. He is a master. I will tell you this much, my super all time favorite, John Mayer, was absolutely put to shame by what I saw last night. I was 15 rows back in an insanely large arena but even being that close to Tom Petty felt like an honor and an experience. Any time this guy would even get relatively close to one side of the stage that side of the audience would go beserk. It was wild. He would sing one line of a song and people would be giving him a standing ovation - just for opening his mouth. And I have to say, I might've been one of the loudest. I like to feel young but I felt like a 10 year old with a crush on that Sanjaya guy from American Idol, weeping in the audience. I don't want to say he's a god but I don't want to rule it out either.
Not only does his mere presence practically incite hysterics from men and women alike but the Heartbreakers set list was near perfection. Although they didn't sing either of my favorite songs ("I Need to Know" and "Honey Bee"), the rest of the list was so flawless I think I could recite every song back right now, in order, with massive excitement - starting with "You Wreck Me" off the best album ever recorded, "Wildflowers", and ending with "American Girl" - but not before Mr. Petty got in a joke about smelling like marijuana and telling a girl, "you just don't understand, I'm in a rock and roll band".
Wearing a velvet blazer, purple shirt, and black vest - with the requisite cowboy boots - he looked smashing. I don't want to focus on the fact that I think he's unbearably gorgeous, especially with the beard, but it does require a mention. Tom Petty is obviously just a regular guy but his aura surpasses that. The entire time I couldn't get over the fact that I was in the same room as "Tom Petty". Luckily the crowd was so intensely loud that I got to scream at the top of my lungs and not appear freaky. Everyone was screaming like that.
So, Steve Winwood opened up by the way. The guy from The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, and Blind Faith. I was expecting excellence. I'm not sure what it was exactly. The person I went with thought it was boring and I thought his voice was beautiful. I think that generally sums it up. I've seen the band Chicago do the song "I'm a Man" so many times that seeing Winwood do it was odd, even though I guess it's his song.
Mike Campbell, the "co-captain" of the Heartbreakers was also phenomenal. Once again, just seeing Mike Campbell in person - like Petty - was unreal. He had some awesome guitar solos that had people freaking out and seemed so absorbed in the music - really intense. Ron Blair, the original bassist that's back again, looked adorable and even hugged Tom Petty at one point which was really fun to see. Steve Ferrone, the drummer, looked just like he does in The Last DJ video - all spiffy and happy - and Scott Thurston, multi-instrumentalist, was.. interesting. My friend liked him best mostly because he was always on the little video screens making funny faces. He did an awesome impression of Jeff Lynne's vocals for a "cover" of the Traveling Wilbury's tune "End of the Line". Of course Benmont Tench, a founding Heartbreaker and genius pianist, was superb. He was on the opposite of the stage from where I was sitting but the crowd erupted when Petty called out his name.
Overall, I'd have to say one of the best parts of the entire concert was Petty's solo acoustic rendition of "Learning to Fly". It was heartbreaking - no pun intended. The crowd that had been on their feet for the whole show all sat down and got silent to hear him sing those lines so beautifully. I'm not even sure what else to say about it. That concert was a force. It could not have been better and I feel lucky to have been a part of it.