“I wish I wrote this next one,” said Cage the Elephant singer Matt Schultz, in between versions of “Breakdown” and “American Girl” he was performing at a Tom Petty tribute show. Sensing an awkward silence, he quickly realized his gaffe. “I wish I wrote all of ’em, to be honest,” he added. Ah, better.
The occasion was the first of two nights of Petty Fest at Hollywood’s Fonda Theatre, described as a 40th-anniversary celebration of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. It’s not as if the organizers need any such nice round number to put on a tribute: They put on benefit shows at the Fonda or at venues in New York and Texas on a more-than-regular basis, having also saluted Brian Wilson, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and (just this January) Fleetwood Mac. But the fact that Petty occupies a particular place in their hearts is evident just from the name of the crackerjack group that accompanies all the guests — the Cabin Down Below Band — which keeps its Petty-inspired moniker even when it’s a different Wilbury getting the honors.
Arguably the most famous and maybe most incongruous name on the bill, Carly Rae Jepsen, failed to appear at Friday’s opener, although that absence went largely unremarked-upon among a classic-rock-oriented crowd. In Jepsen’s stead was an even bigger unannounced name: Kristen Wiig, singing harmonies with Norah Jones on the pot-smoking-introvert anthem “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and the more contemplative, less-often-revived “Time to Move On.”
Jones and Wiig may have been the most Instagrammed duet partners of the two and a half hour show. But for the cognoscenti, there was an even more dynamic duo, or at least duo embedded within a quartet. For the penultimate number, Jakob Dylan and Dhani Harrison reprised their fathers’ roles in the Traveling Wilburys on “End of the Line,” joined by Cory Chisel and Midlake’s Eric Pulido in the roles of Petty, Jeff Lynne or Roy Orbison.
Brandon Boyd of Incubus proved he can set aside the heaviness of metal for something lighter and smokier on “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” with the thick smell amid the capacity crowd suggesting that Mary Jane has many, many dances yet to come. The most demonstrative frontmen, meanwhile, were Cage the Elephant’s Schultz and Matthan Minster, dancing and mugging it up in a way that anti-PDA shy-sters like the Heartbreakers never would.
With the CDB Band providing the closest thing to sound-alike backup humanly possible, it was up to the guest singers to take the tunes out of the realm of karaoke, though not everyone tried. Deliberately or accidentally, first-guy-up Brett Dennen managed to sound the most like Petty if you closed your eyes. The greatest point of departure came with Emily Armstrong’s crowd-pleasingly shouty, Melissa Etheridge-on-steroids take on “Here Comes My Girl.”
For his two non-Wilbury numbers, Dylan chose “The Waiting” and “Rebels,” offering a lengthy explanation in-between about why Southern Accents and Let Me Up I’ve Had Enough are two of his favorite Petty albums, and wondering aloud if the singers who proceeded him had also delved into that part of the catalog. Not many had (although Harrison did “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” and maybe it’s not an accident that that’s the most “Eastern”-sounding song in Petty’s oeuvre). The focus was on the radio hits, far more than it was when Petty and the Heartbreakers did their own multi-night stand at the Fonda three years ago. But a handful of deeper tracks popped up among the 30 selections, including alt-country thrush Nikki Lane’s winsome “Saving Grace” and Adriel Denae’s delicate “Angel Dream.”
A ballyhooed new band, Summer Moon — featuring Strokes bassist Jamie Arentzen on lead vocals, Airborne Toxic Event’s Noah Harmon on guitar, and Stephen Perkins (of Jane’s Addiction) on drums — augmented the other debut shows they’re doing in L.A. this week with “A Woman in Love,” though Arentzen doesn’t quite have vocal range to command that particular number. A more tuneful highlight was “Refugee,” sung by Native American performer J-Council, in a charged match of singer and theme that presumably wasn’t altogether coincidental. “Refugee” is a number with particular resonance for the cause benefited at these tribute shows: the Refuge Foundation for the Arts in Wisconsin.
Cabin Down Below – The CDB Band
Learning to Fly — Brett Dennen
You Got Lucky — Big Black Delta
Yer So Bad — Adam Busch & Danny Masterson
Don’t Do Me Like That — Eric Pulido of Midlake
Listen to Her Heart — The Shelters
Angel Dream — Adriel Denae
Don’t Come Around Here No More — Dhani Harrison
Last Night — Elvis Perkins
Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around — Allison Pierce
Wildflowers — The Pierces
Into the Great Wide Open — Lissie
Running Down a Dream — Justin Warbled of She Wants Revenge with Jamie Arentzen
I Won’t Back Down — Chris Vos
Here Comes My Girl — Emily Armstrong
You Wreck Me — Jonathan Tyler
Saving Grace — Nikki Lane
It’s Good to Be King — Cory Chisel
Refugee — J-Council
Alright for Now — Cameron Avery of Tame Impala
A Woman in Love — Summer Moon
Mary Jane’s Last Dance — Brandon Boyd of Incubus
The Waiting — Jakob Dylan
Rebels — Jakob Dylan
You Don’t Know How It Feels — Norah Jones & Kristen Wiig
Time to Move On — Norah Jones & Kristen Wiig
Breakdown — Matt Shultz & Matthan Minster of Cage the Elephant
American Girl —Shultz & Minster
End of the Line — Dhani Harrison, Eric Pulido, Cory Chisel & Jakob Dylan
Free Fallin’ — cast