I just saw Tom Petty (& The Heartbreakers) in concert for the fourth time in six years. Despite my brother's curious insistence, I do not hate Tom Petty. In fact, I like him. I have a lot of respect for him as a musician, and he has a lot of songs that I think are really good. But though he does have a great guitarist in the form of [Heartbreaker] Mike Campbell, the bulk of Tom Petty's legacy hangs on Petty's songwriting ability (for which he undoubtedly has a talent), and his vocal delivery (on record, or his showmanship on stage). Thus, you get a lot of songs like Free Fallin', that make the crowd go crazy, but from a guitarist's perspective, are largely uninteresting. (I'm not saying that Free Fallin' is a bad song, just that it's dull and boring).
But that just explains why he's not one of my personal favorite musical artists, that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the show (I did); however, my tolerance for concerts of this sort may be waning. That may partially be a result of my growing interest in playing music - I'd rather get on stage and perform than sit quietly and hear someone else perform - but it has a lot to do with the concert atmosphere, which hinges on not the musical act but the audience that attends. It seems more like an excuse to party, with the live music being a side show. It fuels the party certainly, but the emphasis is on getting drunk and having a good time, more than really appreciating the music. Which is encouraged when these big-name acts play all the boring hit songs you hear fifty times a day on the radio instead of the more musically interesting tracks that are less profitable.
If I sound bitter, it's only because I'm trying to find an explanation for why I don't feel comfortable amidst a claustrophobic throng of people pumped with alcohol. Alcohol. Alcohol inspires rowdiness, loudness, impairment of motor functions, and obnoxiousness under the guise of friendliness. It doesn't help that the venue serves drinks in cups filled to the brim - it is statistically impossible for a drunkard to carry such a drink across a sloped lawn without spilling quite a bit of it on the people he's stepping between, over, through, on, and into. Although that's probably calculated - the vendors count on a significant portion of their product being wasted, because that inspires the customer to purchase more. At least, that's the only explanation I could think of for why they insist on taking the bottle caps off of drinks. We're not [inappropriate expletive deleted] two-year-olds, we're not going to swallow them.
So anyway, add messiness to the list of qualities the concert crowd possesses, and that I do not especially like. Listening to live music on the lawn on a summer evening sounds like bliss - it really does - but there are conditions. Let's move on.
The first thing I noticed, pulling into our parking spot among the tailgaters, was that the men were baring more skin than the women, by a wide margin. You may offer your own homespun theories as to why this is below in the comments. Regardless of the why, I was kind of disappointed.
While standing in line to get inside the venue, the lines were forcibly separated by gender, before beginning to move through the gates. I was kind of offended by this. I imagine it was because of the frisking that is done - the gate guards were matched to the lines by gender. Naturally, women would get all up in arms about "sexual harrassment" if they had to be frisked by men to get into the concert, right? How about my preference for being frisked by a woman? Nobody took that into account, did they? And then there's the overprotective security (oh that's right, I forgot, the terrorists won), and selfish consumerist principles (the less we let you bring in, the more you'll have to buy from us on the inside).
I think we'd best skip right to the music. (If I fail to mention the opening act, it's because they really aren't worth mentioning). I was disappointed by the opening few tracks, being the predictable hits they were. I really think I Should Have Known It would have made a great opener, as had been suggested, but even if not that one, you can open a concert better than with Listen To Her Heart (which has been the opener three out of the four times I've seen Petty). I like the song, but you gotta open with something that really kicks the audience in the balls. Not just a chorusy pop song, but something that rocks hard. I forgot, this is a Tom Petty concert.
A few songs in, they finally started playing some good stuff. Mary Jane's Last Dance still sounds good, no matter how many times I've heard it. It was great to hear Oh Well again, it being a Peter Green song and all. Ditto for Honey Bee. Both of those songs I'd heard once before at a Tom Petty concert (though different ones), but they're good enough songs that I wouldn't mind hearing them more often.
I was pleased with the Mojo set that was played. I thought maybe they'd scatter the songs a bit more throughout the night rather than all in a go, and that they'd play more of them (would have been more interesting that way, but you gotta please the crowd, right?), but they did do a good solid five. And all five sounded great in the live context. There isn't one of them I wouldn't enjoy hearing again in concert. Even Jefferson Jericho Blues, which I didn't like so much on the album - it sounded better live. Running Man's Bible was a good one, and I Should Have Known It sounded great live, just as I had expected it would. The other two were the advance tracks - First Flash of Freedom and Good Enough, and were probably the highlights of the evening.
The rest of the usual songs you hear at a Tom Petty concert that they played kinda flowed through me. Except for Breakdown. I was disappointed at not hearing that one at previous concerts - I had assumed it was too virile for an aging band to tackle, but they proved me wrong. I liked hearing it, but at that point in the concert I might have been too distracted by other things.
The moon rose nice and prettily over the pavilion before the show started, but it drizzled off and on during the show. I don't like wearing wet clothes, but I was even more concerned about my hair, only because it's kind of inconvenient (and messy) to let it get wet. Well I solved both problems by taking my shirt off and using it to keep my head [relatively] dry.
I remember hearing Refugee, which is one that I like, and then soon enough we were at the end of the show. Funny thing is, for the last six years, with Petty's set list being pretty predictable, three songs that always show up at the end of the show (or in the encore) in some combination, are Refugee, Runnin' Down A Dream (which has a killer guitar part), and American Girl. The band encored with the latter two. There was no third song in the encore, unlike in previous years, although perhaps that was for the better, as it started pouring just as soon as the show ended. I'm pretty much convinced that the weather was set up by the venue, as a plot to get people out of the pavilion as fast as possible after the show was over. Well, it more or less worked.
Already shirtless, I was basically soaked by the time I got back to the car, so I took the rest of my clothes off for the drive home (including the half hour plus of sitting in line inching out of the parking lot). For some reason I feel in my gut that stormy weather - rain in particular - is a good excuse to shed my clothes. Perhaps it's because the excuse "I don't like wearing wet clothes" is more understandable (and thus accommodatable) to the average person than simply "I don't like wearing clothes". Even so, I didn't see a single person more than shirtless (and only male, of course), probably on account of the uber strict cultural taboo against exposing one's genitals in public. All I'm saying is, if this were Woodstock... It's not some dark villainous perverted activity, it's just frollicking naked in the rain! Just one more example of how I don't relate to the populace.
Anyway, in conclusion, if I were God, I could conjure up a much better summer experience, but because we live in a democracy, I have to make do with what customs the common folk have in regards to entertaining themselves. But I guess it's still better than doing nothing.