Since I am something of a long-time Tom Petty fan, I was one of the few fans who saw the band perform in a half-filled Market Square Arena in August of 1981. Back then, The Heartbreakers were not getting much radio air play in the Indianapolis/Central Indiana market, which never made much sense to me. Subsequently, when Tom and the guys came to town during the summer of 1981, concert ticket sales were soft.
Wanna know the crazy part of this? When the concert was announced, I went to the local record store which sold concert tickets and picked up two, one for me and one for my last high school girlfriend. The concert was originally scheduled for mid-June 1981 but got postponed due to Tom have throat problems. Shortly after the concert was postponed and rescheduled, I broke up with that young lady and had an extra ticket. Now, you would think 40 years later how many people would have been begging for a chance to see Tom Petty, especially when we would only be 2 rows off the floor stage left. Unfortunately, I had the hardest time trying to find someone to go with me. None of my friends wanted to see this “new” artist. Can you believe that? Eventually, I found a younger guy from my church youth group who wanted to go to the concert.
Looking back on it, that concert was magical. The band had no opening act, so when the emcee introduced them as “From the United States of America, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers!” as The Heartbreakers opened with “American Girl” to Tom running out to begin singing at the last second, the band gave notice that they were going to lead us into a brave new world called Eighties music. The playing that night was as if each band member’s life was at stake. Among the highlights of that night, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, while performing “Breakdown,” inserted a brilliant cover of Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack,” paying homage to their rock and roll forefathers all the while taking rock to new heights. By the time the concert ended, with the band whipping the eight thousand or so crowd members into a frenzy with another cover, The Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” Tom Petty and his Gainesville, Florida cohorts had converted another large number of people into believers.
In 1983, Petty & the Heartbreakers were once again touring behind a new album, this time Long After Dark. While the album gave the impression that the band was tired and had yet to fully integrate new bassist Howie Epstein into band, by the time they hit Indianapolis, they were hitting on all cylinders. This time through the Circle City, MTV’s heavy reliance upon the guys’ videos had introduced them to more people in my age group, so this time Market Square Arena was nearly sold out. Additionally, I had NO trouble finding college friends to caravan down from Muncie to watch Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers with special guest Nick Low & Paul Carrack, all for the low, low price of $9.
Lowe and Carrack were great openers as they traded hit song after hit song for their big 30-minute set. Then, The Heartbreakers came out with guns a-blazin’. Once again, their live performance melted minds and converted the unbelievers. It was after this concert that Tom Petty tickets became hot items in Indianapolis. Yet, the first two times I saw him, I never had problems getting great seats at the old, now-demolished Market Square Arena (MSA).
After my wife and I got married, we really didn’t attend many concerts until the boys got older. And when we did got to concerts, my wife never wanted to go see Tom Petty. From the moment we met in 1984 through 2009, she refused to go see him, even though I assured her she would walk out of the concert a bigger fan than when she entered. After Tom and the Heartbreakers played during the Super Bowl halftime, they announced a big tour, and they were going to play in Indianapolis. Of course, my boys wanted to go see him “as a family for Dad’s birthday.” Reluctantly, she finally gave in, but it took our sons to get her there.
Needless to say, by 2009, Petty & the Heartbreakers were an institution and brilliant live performers. And, just as I had prophesized back in the mid-Eighties, my wife walked away a huge Petty fan. Now, I hear her streaming Petty, along with her long-time favorites Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Hall & Oates and U2, as well as new current favorite Fitz & the Tantrums. Of course, we all tease her about not wanting to see Petty for so long and now being a fan.
Unfortunately, that concert in the summer of 2009 was the last time I saw him live. My boys both saw him a couple more times each, but my back kept me from going to see him during those last seven years. That’s why I will always tell people that while his studio albums are outstanding, the best way to experience Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers is live. Therefore, in order to get a small taste of the band live, I recommend the Live Anthology box set along with the Running Down a Dream documentary. Between those two mega-sized collections, you will get a better feel for this talented coterie of musicians that the Greatest Hits compilation from 1993 only hints at.
Personally, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers are right up there with Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band (The Born in the USA Tour) and Prince (The Lovesexy Tour) as the best live performers I have ever seen in my 40-some years of concerts. With that said, let’s continue my countdown of my 100 favorite songs by Tom Petty by covering 50 through 26.
50. “Trailer” – Mudcrutch (2, 2016)
49. “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Pack Up the Plantation: Live! 1985)
48. “Flirtin’ with Time” – Tom Petty (Highway Companion, 2006)
47. “What Are You Doin’ in My Life” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Damn the Torpedoes, 1979)
46. “You Can Still Change Your Mind” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Hard Promises, 1981)
45. “Peace in L.A.” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Non-album single, 1992)
44. “A Thing About You” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Hard Promises, 1981)
43. “Christmas All Over Again” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (A Very Special Christmas 2, 1992)
42. “The Wild One, Forever” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, 1976)
41. “Rebels” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Southern Accents, 1985)
40. “Scare Easy” – Mudcrutch (Mudcrutch, 2008)
39. “Don’t Do Me like That” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Damn the Torpedoes, 1979)
38. “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Damn the Torpedoes, 1979)
37. “Louisiana Rain” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Damn the Torpedoes, 1979)
36. “I Need to Know” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers ( (You’re Gonna Get It! 1978)
35. “Dreamville” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (The Last D.J., 2002)
34. “Change of Heart” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Long After Dark, 1982)
33. “Leave Virginia Alone” – Tom Petty (Wildflowers & All the Rest, 2020)
32. “It’s Good to Be King” – Tom Petty (Wildflowers, 1994)
31. “Southern Accents” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Southern Accents, 1985)
30. “Jefferson Jericho Blues” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Mojo, 2010)
29. “Jammin’ Me” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), 1987)
28. “Century City” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Damn the Torpedoes, 1979)
27. “Honey Bee” – Tom Petty (Wildflowers, 1994)
26. “American Dream Plan B” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (Hypnotic Eye, 2014)
And that’s a wrap on Day 3. Catch ya later!