27 July, 2010

Free Fallin' - Like The Rain That Night...

I just read a review of the Tom Petty concert in the paper, and I couldn't resist making some comments about it. Apologies to the author - nothing personal, it's the general phenomenon of Tom Petty that I'm critiquing.

The review opens with a lame but unavoidable joke, and a reference to the rain, which the author mentions three times throughout the review.

"Though heavy rain demolished chances of the ... concert ... being a comfortable experience, fans wouldn't back down." (groan)

"Aside from a small run [how depressing] of new songs, Mr. Petty's Saturday night set was a hits-only affair, and the audience ate up [like a good audience] every familiar guitar riff, every radio chorus."

Familiar guitar riffs? Radio choruses (chori?)? Sounds like a formula for excitement. Considering the state of radio today. Was this really the same musician who recorded The Last DJ? "And that music that had freed us became a tired routine." Then again, I have no reason to believe that Petty's ever played a song from that album in concert. I guess the live arena is a whole different animal from the music studio, where mediocrity reigns supreme, in the name of subduing the masses (with the gentle sounds of corporate rock radio). Oh yeah, and there's money involved, I'm sure.

Continuing, the reviewer claims the opening act are "worthy heirs to Mr. Petty's straightforward rock approach." Well, in their defense, they were pretty bland (tongue set firmly in cheek). Mention of the song You Don't Know How It Feels opens us up to reference number two to the rain:

"But we did know how it felt - damp." (groan)

According to this reviewer, Petty then launched "a string of his most classic sing-alongs." Oh boy, sing-alongs. The farmer in the dell, the farmer in the dell...

"The appeal of Mr. Petty and the Heartbreakers [have you ever before seen anyone refer to them as, not Tom, but Mr. Petty and the Heartbreakers??] ... has forever been their normalcy [wow, normalcy - that is awesome; definitely a quality worth admiring]. These guys look like your uncle [true], and they play without the pretension of many bands just as legendary."

Alright, I can understand the appeal of "simple" music. Or better yet, straightforward music, as it was described previously. I listen to a lot of "simple" music - blues has a pretty simple form. But I would never hold "pretension" against a band if their music was good. For example, Yes was a good band - ivory towers and unicorns and all. And maybe Led Zeppelin's pretension got the better of them on a track like Carouselambra, but who would say that Led Zeppelin is "pretentious" when they played great, epic tracks like Dazed & Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Achilles Last Stand, etc.? Oh, that's right, the punks.

The reviewer gets it right when he says that the band "showed off most during a five-song 'little mini-set of mojo'" - where in this case showing off means playing good solid music, as opposed to fan-favorite sing-alongs.

"Instead of spreading new jams throughout the set, thereby forcing people to listen, Mr. Petty all but gave uninterested fans a long bathroom break. Their loss."

Their loss, indeed. I liked the mini-set, I thought it worked well sticking those Mojo songs together. Although I still would have liked to hear some more throughout the show. But the notion that people would use that opportunity to take a bathroom break - so readily believable as it is - sends a shudder down my spine. As if their hooping and hollering for the sing-alongs wasn't bad enough, they'd actually spitefully turn their noses away from the stage for the best part of the performance? It's a scary thought, indeed.

"Mojo may not include a future rock radio classic, but these songs twisted and grooved with the best of them..."

And therein lies the tragedy of the system. The songs on Mojo really are that good. I would be ecstatic to hear them on the radio alongside Petty's tried and true (and retried and retrue) classics, but you think we will? There may be one exception - I Should Have Known It (probably because its riff has been described - in this review and elsewhere - as being "Led Zeppelin-heavy"), which I have heard on the radio - but what are the chances that it gets forgotten after Mojo is no longer Petty's "newest release!" - like Saving Grace before it? And, before that - oh wait, The Last DJ never had a radio hit...

Time for mention three of the rain:

"An acoustic rendition of 'Learning To Fly' evoked the night's biggest crowd chorus, even if everyone's wings were soaked..." (groan)

You know, I think I've lost my appreciation for Learning To Fly. The whole crowd chorus thing is just kinda...lame. Breakdown has a far more interesting "crowd chorus" section, and besides, it's a far more interesting song to begin with.

Wrapping up the review:

"It may be subdued, even subtle, but Petty's mojo was in full throttle Saturday night."

That sounds almost like doublethink. I'll leave you with this question: what does it say about Petty's mojo that, even in full throttle, it is subtle and subdued? Hm? Well, I guess the answer was in the musician's name right from the start. So at least you knew what you were getting. ;)

Again, no disrespect to the reviewer himself - I felt it was an entertaining read, and a good review for the newspaper, that accomplished its objective (just like the Petty concert did). And though I playfully rib Tom Petty, he knows I still love him. The fact that I do it just shows that I really do care. :p


  1. First of all Pety played tracks from The last DJ on the Last DJ tour. There's even a concert DVD from this tour, if I recall. Actually it's a live sound stage performance.

    The normalcy thing throws me off. I don't know where on Earth he was coming from with that. But Petty DOES deserve recognition for forgoing the pretention cultivated by others in his field. It's part of what allows me to love him so much.

    There's nothing wrong with pretention. Everything I listen to is 100% pretentious -- because the simpler the music is, the more I get to invent and inject my own pretention into it. My taste keeps evolving. Hip in '05 was grunge. Hip last winter was Black Metal. Petty's not trying to be hip, so he always stays relevant, and it allows me to impose whatever high concepts *I* want to onto his music.

    I whole-heartedly agree with segregating the Mojo songs onto their own mini-set. I think he could have spread a couple more throughout the set, but putting the bulk of them together makes sense because Mojo is unlike anything else Petty's ever done, outside of literally a few songs, and Mudcrutch. In my view it's a completely different style of music, as removed as Neil Young's acoustic music is from Crazy Horse.

    I still hear both Scare Easy (Mudcrutch's 'hit') and Saving Grace at Eat N Park., as well as Should Have Known which I hear almost every night. DVE kept playing Saving Grace for a long time although I'm not sure if they still do, and I'm not sure I've ever heard them play Should Have Known. With all its flaws, Eat N Park's playlist has some definite ups.

    I concur -- I've been tired of Petty's live versions of Learning To Fly for a while now. Thing is -- I love the song. Into The Great Wide Open has the most kickass production of any Tom Petty record and all the tracks sound fantastic. But the title track was a hit just as much as Learning To Fly... Tom really oughtta exchange them for the next tour.

    If Petty had his way, I'm sure he'd play all of his new songs, all the time. But Petty is genuinely a humble guy, or at least he goes to great lengths to portray himsefl as such, and he would never shirk the fans like that. He wants to make people as happy as possible, can we fault him for that? He does the best he can, I mean nobody had even heard of Sweet William before he played it at every show last year.

    What we have to hope for is that maybe Petty will go off on a tangent again and do some shows without the hits, like the Mudcrutch tour.

  2. Oh and this really isn't worth a new comment but I just have to mention... there are PLENTY of like-minded individuals over on Tompetty.com's message board. I mean, I haven't been there in a long time, but it used to be the ONLY thing they would discuss is how much Petty needs to start playing more interesting sets. And the longer I'm a Petty fan, the more I agree, because the deeper I get into his collection.

  3. Yep, I've been reading some of the posts on that thread, and there's some good points. I especially like, "I don't expect a different setlist every night of a tour, but I do expect different setlists for different tours." You keep some of the tried and true tunes (some, not all of them), add in some new stuff, find similar songs to replace ones you used to play (to serve a similar function), and above all, mix up the opener and possibly also the encore from year to year. Make it interesting. Make it like you're seeing a new show, not the same one you saw the last four times. I'll admit the Mojo set was an excellent set, and worth the price of admission, but the rest of the setlist was pretty stale.

    I still want a copy of the Five Nights At The Fillmore bootleg.

  4. Still? Have you wanted it for long? 'Cause I just found out about it yesterday and boy does it look good.

    Are you interested in the Last DJ live DVD at all? Could be great. Thouh High Grass Dogs will probably always be my favorite, being from the Echo tour and capturing Tom still playing stuff from his 90s records. It even opens with Jammin' Me! But it'd be cool to see more live stuff come out, there are a lot of impressive setlists out there. Fucking.... I can't even believe it, Supernatural Radio n shit.

  5. Or was it Twenty Nights At The Fillmore? Yeah, I have a note about it dating back to at least 2006. I think I may have found out about it way back when, when I heard a live Gloria on the radio at college. Not sure if that's the show that one was from, but there is a Gloria on there. Anyway, looks good, but I never did get my hands on it.

    Yeah, The Live DJ (play on words) sounds interesting. I'm sure it's at least worth seeing.