NEWARK, NJ––Everyone has a story and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers have always known how to find those stories and tell them in ways you never tire of hearing. During the band’s sold-out 40th anniversary show at Prudential Center on Jun. 16, fans remembered what it’s like to be an “American Girl” raised on promises, that you don’t have to live like a “Refugee,” and why “It’s Good To Be King.” With a mischievous grin that seems to say we’re all sharing the same secret, Tom Petty has endured as the narrator of peoples’ lives for four decades, making this reunion particularly satisfying.
“I feel the mojo building up in this room,” said the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.
Petty promised a “100 percent rock ‘n’ roll show,” which the band delivered starting with “Rockin’ Around (With You),” the first track from their first album and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” (Greatest Hits, 1993).
“We’re celebrating our 40 anniversary and we’re really happy we can be with you,” said Petty. “…Tonight we’re going to look at the 40 years like it’s one side of a big record and we’re going to drop the needle all over it.”
The first place the needle landed was “You Don’t’ Know How It Feels,” (Wildflowers, 1994) which gave Petty a chance to play up the line, “My old man was born to rock/He’s still tryin’ to beat the clock,” with a shimmy and a knowing glance. “Forgotten Man” (Hynotic Eye, 2014) followed.
“We haven’t played this song in decades,” said Petty introducing “You Got Lucky” (Long After Dark). “This comes from 1982. I know you don’t know it,” he said, teasing a young audience member. “You’re too little to know it. But we’re so glad you’re here sugar. You sir, are well acquainted with this song,” he said smiling at an older fan.
“Should we all sing one together?” asked Petty as the band led fans through “Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin” (Full Moon Fever, 1998).
“This is a request,” said Petty about “Walls (Circus)” (She’s the One soundtrack, 1996). “It’s actually me that requested it, but that still counts, right?” After “Don’t Come Around Here No More” (Southern Accents, 1985), Petty asked for a hand for the Heartbreakers.
“These people have been my family for what that’s worth,” said Petty.
Petty affectionately introduced The Webb sisters (background vocalists Charley and Hattie), Scott Thurston (keyboards, harmonicas, guitar), Steve Ferrone (drums), Ron Blair (bass), Benchmont Tench (keyboards), and Mike Campbell (guitar).
“Long ago in 1970 I was trying to put a band together and I looked on the bulletin board in the music store and there was one guy playing guitar looking to get in a band but there was no phone number, just an address,” said Petty recalling his meeting with Campbell.
“So I drove out there and this was one shitty looking place. He came walking in with this $90 Japanese guitar that looked terrible. I thought I might have to make a quick excuse and leave. But he cut into the intro of ‘Johnny B Goode’ and I said, ‘Man you’re going to be in my band forever.’”
The point was proven as Petty and Campbell time-traveled with the band to 1994 for a three-song set from Wildflowers, which included “It’s Good to Be King,” “Crawling Back to You,” and the title track, followed by “Learning to Fly” (Into the Great Wide Open, 1991), and “Yer So Bad” (Full Moon Fever, 1989).
“I Should Have Known” (Mojo, 2010), “Refugee” (Damn the Torpedoes, 1979), “Running Down a Dream” (Full Moon Fever, 1989), and an encore of “You Wreck Me” (Wildflowers, 1994) and “American Girl” (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976) closed the show.
“We were asked recently by a journalist how we kept this going for so long and the answer was the fans,” said Petty. “They keep coming back. We thank you for that great gift you’ve given us and the fun you’ve given us tonight.”
Petty opened his arms in acceptance of the kind of applause you only receive by selling over 80 million records. If this night really was one big record as Petty said, it was clear that fans wanted to spin it again.