I was at a gig at the Birnam Arts venue near Dunkeld that I heard that Tom Petty had died. Dundee band The View were playing their Hats Off To The Busker album and they announced his death from the stage. It really speaks of Petty's monumental importance to popular music that this news had managed to reach a band mid-performance. I still don't know how they got the information, perhaps the sound engineer got a tweet and relayed it to them via their in-ear monitors?
The year was 2017 and along with Chuck Berry's (arguably the father of the genre) death early that year and Fat's Domino's death just a four day's later Petty's absence left a giant hole in rock n' roll. I unfortunately never saw a Tom Petty gig while he was alive. My girlfriend Jo and I were just starting to get into his music when he died, with his greatest hits and his 1991 album 'Into The Great Wide Open' being just about the only CD's Jo ever seemed to have in her car when we met. Put it this way, if we are ever on BBC's Pointless and the category in the final is songs from 'Into The Great Wide Open', we are definitely going home with that jackpot.
Before we saw that the UK's premier Petty tribute act 'The Petty Heartbreakers' were playing Backstage At The Green Hotel I thought our best chance of seeing Tom Petty live was either a time machine or some sort of rock n' roll Jurassic Park style human cloning scenario. Personally, I'm still not ruling either of these options out, but Jo thought it might be a good idea to see 'The I thought our best chance of seeing Tom Petty live was either a time machine or some sort of rock n' roll Jurassic Park style human cloning scenario.Petty Heartbreakers' just in case.
Arriving at the venue, we liquor up and decide to stand at the back of the venue which is the sweet spot for getting the best sound. The band hit the stage and singer Rich is dressed in full Petty finery including top hat and waistcoat as they launch into some late period Petty, 2002's 'The Last DJ'. The band sound heartbreakingly close (it's a petty person that doesn't love a Petty pun!) to the original.
Next, the guys send us all the way back to 1976 and the opening track off of The Heartbreakers eponymous debut. 'Breakdown' is built upon an awesome chunky organ riff and as The Petty Heartbreakers have no keyboard player ('We've got no room in the van' Rich quips) Rich has to juggle guitar and organ duties. 'American Dream Plan B' from 2014 finds Rich nailing a Dave Davies-esque Petty solo while bass player Col rounds out the sound with a great harmony part. This is followed by 'Jammin' Me' which Petty co-wrote with Bob Dyan. It's clear that Petty owed a debt of gratitude to the ultimate singer-songwriter so it's nice to see this song which despite its high chart position on release wasn't included on the greatest hits.
The second half of the show is chock-filled with Tom Petty hits from his time working with Jeff Lynne, Brummie producer of ELO fame. Lynne's production can be divisive. I was never sure about his work on the new songs on The Beatles 'Anthology' and for some reason, he seemed to plaster every song on Brian Wilson's debut album with sleigh bells. That being said, I love the sound of the two albums he did with Petty, 'Full Moon Fever' and 'Into The Great Wide Open'. First up is 'Runnin' Down A Dream' with that awesome twangy riff, sing-a-long chorus and 'woo-ooh' backing vocals. This is followed in short order by the laid back and dreamy 'Learning to Fly' which is punctuated by an expertly executed slide solo by Gary on guitar.
At this point Jo and I kind of fancy another drink but we agree to wait for a 'lull' before we both hit the bar. Unfortunately, we have got a bit of a wait in store as next up is one Petty's best-known single's 'I Won't Back Down' which leads into Travellin' Wilbury's belter 'End Of The Line'. Bass player Col makes a decent fist of the Roy Orbison vocal part and it seems that singer Rich could quite easily have a second career as a Bob Dylan tribute if The Petty Heartbreakers ever split up! As 'The Great Wide Open' strikes up, we begin to realise that we are probably not going to get to the bar. 'The Great Wide Open' (the one with Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway in the video) is probably my favourite Tom Petty song and tonight the band do a great version. After that, it's just great song after great song including 'American Girl', 'Refugee' and the revelation of the night 'I Should Have Known It' which sounds like The Heartbreakers channelling Led Zepellin.
It's been a great night but as we make our way home Jo and I get into a Petty argument. You see I think that guitarist Gary played the better lead but she reckoned that Rich was a niftier soloist. Well, there is no accounting for taste.
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