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The Five Best Things From Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ Stellar Hollywood Bowl Concert

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers brought their 40th anniversary tour to the Hollywood Bowl last night (Sept. 21) for the first of three nights at the legendary Los Angeles venue and the show was…

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers brought their 40th anniversary tour to the Hollywood Bowl Thursday night for the first of three nights at the legendary Los Angeles venue.

The trio mark the tour’s last dates after kicking off in April and rumors are swirling that this could be the last of any major tour by one of the best rock and roll bands ever. (Petty told Rolling Stone last December, “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thinking this might be the last big one.”)

Regardless of whether the show marked the near-end of this particular tour or the end of touring in general, from the first note it was clear that Petty and his compadres are having the time of their lives on stage.  

Here are the five best things about the show:

Petty’s giddiness: Petty can often be inscrutable on stage; that’s always been part of his charm. What exactly is going on behind those sunglasses? Last night it was clear that his dominant emotion was joy. He was effusive in thanking the audience over and over again and delighted in playing his adopted hometown. “It’s a one of a kind feeling playing where you live,” he said. 


“Don’t Come Around Here No More”: The 32-year old smash has always been one of Petty’s best. Filled with snarling menace and sinister resignation toward an old lover, the song started as a mid-tempo dark lament before exploding into a full-bodied rock and roll assault as if someone had thrown a grenade onto the stage (following a group sing and clap-along). It was a tried-and-true method that Petty and the band used a number of times during the night, but no more effectively than on “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” 

The Band: When Petty accepted MusiCares’ Person of the Year award in February, he stated, “I realized I may actually be in one of the best two or three rock and roll bands there is.” There was no denying that last night as his longtime crew — at 24 years, drummer Steve Ferrone is the newbie — astounded again and again with their musical brilliance. Whether it was Ferrone pounding on “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” keyboardist Benmont Tench on “It’s Good To Be King,” bassist Ron Blair’s steady rhythm or guitarist Mike Campbell on, well, everything, the band was tight, crisp and on point on every song in a way that few groups can even attempt. In an era where rock feels like it’s dying, the Heartbreakers could single-handedly resurrect it. The camaraderie was clear as Petty would often stand close to Campbell as they engaged in tasteful guitar pyrotechnics or wander over to sing with background vocalists, The Webb Sisters. It felt like Petty was surrounded by his favorite humans. His hilarious introduction for Campbell, whom he met in 1970, was worth the price of admission. 

The Wildflowers triptych: The 40th anniversary tour supposedly supplanted a Wildflowers tour Petty had planned to commemorate a reissue of his 1994 solo set. So instead, he revisited that seminal set with a trio of songs played in a row. He kicked off with “It’s Good To Be King,” extending the 5-minute tune to nearly twice that length with a muscular jam at the end that engaged the full band in musical hand-to-hand combat, before veering into the seldom performed “Crawling Back To You,” and completing with a gentle “Wildflowers,” to show the full range of the album. (The band performed “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and “You Wreck Me” separately during the evening, making it clear that Petty still feels tremendous fondness for the set). 


The production: A huge backdrop, divided into three segments, provided the perfect visual accompaniment with the center section usually focused on Petty or another band member and the side screens showing other visuals. But the real stars were the 20 rows of same-colored orbs that dropped from the ceiling collectively and individually during various songs, changing colors in unison. It was a striking change from the usual overhead lighting set-up and it provided a warm ceiling of color that would occasionally bathe the Bowl as the venue’s sides would light up to match the lights.