Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers 40th Anniversary: 2017 Review

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Tom Petty (with Mike Campbell on left) at Prudential Center, Newark, NJ, June 16, 2017 (Photo © Greg Brodsky)

Not many classic rock bands get to enjoy a 40th anniversary and even fewer are able to do so by selling out arenas wherever they play. In the case of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, they’re celebrating the occasion with as polished a set as any band you’ll see.

For this (almost) career-spanning tour, they’re playing hits and a few deep tracks, ranging from their self-titled debut through their most recent, 2014’s Hypnotic Eye, including a lot of choice cuts from two of Petty’s solo efforts, 1989’s Full Moon Fever and 1994’s Wildflowers, which together accounted for eight of the show’s 19 songs.

Tom Petty at Prudential Center (Photo © Greg Brodsky)

At the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on June 16, 2017, the band symbolically kicked things off with the very first cut from that 1976 debut, “Rockin’ Around (With You).” The song has grown since the 2:26 studio version that was recorded by a bunch of unknown musicians who couldn’t have imagined the successful circumstances in which they’d be performing it today.

The crowd goes wild for “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” an unlikely Top 40 hit in 1993 and the set’s follow-up, 1994’s “You Don’t Know How it Feels,” with its familiar harmonica opening and laid-back pacing.

Watch “Mary Jane…”

Three of the four original Heartbreakers remain, a rare feat in rock ‘n’ roll: Petty’s fellow Floridians lead guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, plus bassist Ron Blair. (It’s Blair’s second lengthy run that bookends a 20-year break.)

The rest of the brilliant, veteran lineup includes multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston, who joined in 1991, and drummer Steve Ferrone (“the new guy because he’s only been with us 24 years,” says Petty).

Watch “I Won’t Back Down”

This wasn’t the first Petty concert for the vast majority of the suburban crowd, as the arena was dotted with vintage Petty concert tees. And, on songs like “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” the audience was well-familiar with his call-and-response when the music stopped halfway and the house lights came on. And the final minute-and-a-half is a highlight as the musicians take over amidst strobe lights.

Later, during a mini-Wildflowers set, Petty gets acoustic on the beautiful title cut as Ferrone supplies a steady beat.

Related: Our Album Rewind of Petty’s solo masterpiece

The mood continues with a lovely “Learning to Fly” as Petty allows the audience to sing the familiar chorus.

The set closer, “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” allows the band to stretch out.

The two-song encore ends, fittingly, back where it all started with “American Girl,” from that debut album. Though the song didn’t chart when it was released 40 years ago, it’s become, arguably, his most popular and enduring song.

“I was asked by a journalist how we’ve kept this going for so long,” he says. “And the answer was ‘the fans… they keep coming back.”

Related: Petty was honored earlier that year as the MusiCares Person of the Year

Joe Walsh was the show’s opening act, his final one of the Heartbreakers’ anniversary tour. The ever-congenial performer played a 10-song set mixing solo stuff (“In the City,” “Rocky Mountain Way”), music from the James Gang (“The Bomber,” “Funk #49”) and an Eagles song (“Take It to the Limit”), with a full 10-piece band.

While singing the lyric “I have a good time” from his biggest solo hit, 1978’s “Life’s Been Good,” he says, “Yes, I do.” You believe him. There needs to be a reality show called Being Joe Walsh because he sure seems to lead the good life.

Petty’s enormous recorded legacy is available in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here.

Greg Brodsky

5 Comments so far

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  1. Sunny
    #1 Sunny 3 October, 2017, 03:55

    RIP Tom Petty! Sad, sad day!!
    My thoughts & prayers are with your family, band mates, & many friends & fans! You will be missed so badly!
    The true “heartbreaker”!! You’re breakin’ my heart!!

    Reply this comment
  2. Da Mick
    #2 Da Mick 17 June, 2021, 08:18

    Tom Petty is certainly one of Rock’s biggest losses to come round in the last decade. And it seems like we miss him now even more than we ever dreamed that we might. He turned out to represent so much from what’s sadly evolved into a largely bygone era of great music.

    That said, while TP & the Heartbreakers may have done a flawless and polished 40th anniversary show, their real polish came in their catalogue of flawless studio recordings. Unlike so many bands that you hear who could never quite get it right in the studio, and were often most famous for the energy of their live shows, The Heartbreakers crafted record after record of listenable and, most often, memorable, recording throughout the decades that they made “records.” I have most of them, and while they were a great musical band that captured much of their recorded sound live, it must be said that their live shows were a bit like watching a painting perform.

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  3. Kat
    #3 Kat 17 June, 2021, 15:17

    The day I heard Tom Petty died was the day the music died for me. I was 13 when his first album came out that’s all it took. I was hooked for life. My brother bought me that first album I played I over and over again. When I met my boyfriend now husband he and his family never heard of them. I was shocked. He took me to my first concert to see Tom petty and the heartbreakers with his aunt and uncle. They were all were hooked after that. They couldn’t believe they never heard of them before. When Tom died my whole family was calling me to tell me how sorry they were because they knew how much I loved him. He was the best and there will never help another one like him.

    Reply this comment
  4. JCB
    #4 JCB 16 January, 2023, 08:21

    Good concert, but his 30th anniversary show which was filmed in Gainsville, Fl. his hometown is a better show. It’s only available at the PBS store, and it’s $19. Well worth it. Over two hours and the sound and video are incredible. Stevie was there and plays on 3 tunes. One of the best concert DVD’s ever.

    Reply this comment
  5. Chris
    #5 Chris 17 June, 2024, 02:27

    Best ever U.S. Rock band!

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