The Petty Archives

Tom Petty: A Heartbreaker Comes Home
By Leslie Streeter
The Palm Beach Post - September 22, 2006

Being a mayor must require strong leadership and loyalty to your city -- particularly when some other trash-talking mayor steps to you.

Gainesville's Pegeen Hanrahan is apparently up to that challenge, at least according to a story she told at a press conference at University of Florida yesterday afternoon at which she presented the keys to the city to a certain band.

The story goes that Hanrahan was at a conference where she met the mayor of college town and musical mecca Athens, Georgia. Hanrahan introduced herself as the "mayor of Gainesville, Florida, home of University of Florida."  The mayor of Athens answered with "I'm from Athens, Ga., home of REM."

The crowd at the press conference let out a mock-astonished "Ooooh!"  like "No, she didn't!"  Hanrahan smiled, paused for one delicious moment and said "So I said 'I'll see you your REM and raise you one Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.'"

So take that, Stipe.

Petty and his band of easy-going merry men were indeed the talk of their hometown yesterday -- there were signs all over town welcoming them back, various gatherings and tailgates and the general buzz that usually accompanies something great to come.

Man, was it.

This show -- you can not believe how good it was, although you'll be able to see some of it when it appears as part of an A&E  special or in a movie Peter Bogdanovich is making about the band. I've seen him once before, at Sound Advice with the Black Crowes last year, and that was one of the best live shows I'd ever seen.

But this show, their only Florida stop in their 30th anniversary tour? Blows that one away. To, like, Guam.

Maybe it was the giddiness of the hometown fans that spurred them on, or the joy of being home. Maybe it was the presence of expert twirler and tambourine slinger Stevie Nicks. But Petty and the Heartbreakers were on fire, extending several of the songs in their more than two-hour show into jangly psychedelic free-for-alls, or into pumped-up blues symphonies.

There was not a weak moment in a show that was plenty long enough to betray some weakness. But here my favorites:

  • Stevie showed up to duet on "Stop Dragging My Heart Around," which sounded defiant but pleading to me when the singers were younger but now, when sung by older, more mature singers, sounds like the last chess piece in a war of world-weariness. "I'm done,"  Stevie seems to be singing. And you believe her. Do all songs age this well? Likely not.
  • "Handle With Care,"  the Traveling Wilburys' classic, is the sweetest thing, especially with Petty filling in for his late fake Wilbury brothers Roy Orbison and George Harrison.
  • Is there a song more beautiful and liltingly brutal than "Free Fallin'"? There's a guy singing the praises of this good girl, who trusts God and horses and America and this man she's given her innocent heart to. And he knows he's going take that heart and stomp on it because even though this makes him a bad boy, he can only save one of them. And he chooses himself. See? Brutal.
  • The last song was "American Girl", the first song of last year's show in West Palm Beach. Stevie sang back-up, the crowd leapt to their feet, and Petty swirled around the stage, arms out like an airplane, like he was at a Tori Amos show. His face was peaceful, his mouth curled sweetly into an expression approaching something like joy.

Take it easy, baby. Make it last all night, indeed.