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Tom Petty flies high in Philly
By L.B. Eisen
The Daily Princetonian — April 13, 1995
It didn’t matter that we had to wait for twenty minutes to use the restrooms. It didn’t matter that our seats were the highest ones in the Spectrum. It didn’t matter that I had to find an annoyed man from the event staff to kick four drunk teenagers out of our seats when we finally located our row. And it didn’t matter that we had had to pay five dollars for a beer. When Tom Petty strummed his guitar and belted out “She’s a good girl, loves her mama, loves Jesus and America too,” it was all worth it. It was at that moment that I realized just how American Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers really are.
The Spectrum in Philadelphia was sold out, and I couldn’t spot one empty seat in the entire place. Teenie boppers hopping in their seats, over-protective parents with their kids, dancing college students in baseball hats, long-haired bikers and strange-looking men in top hats trying to emulate Petty were all gathered together for a few short hours to listen to the man that most of them probably grew up listening to. It was an eclectic mix of people that all had one thing in common: their love for Tom Petty.
Petty started out with music from his new album, Wildflowers, but thankfully got back to his older music soon enough. And you can’t listen to songs like “Free Fallin'” and “Last Dance with Mary Jane” without smiling and thinking about how great it is to be alive and young.
He didn’t play some of my favorite songs, like “Here Comes My Girl,” “Don’t Come Round Here No More” and “You Got Lucky” — but he did only have so much time. Petty’s enormous repertoire couldn’t possibly have been covered so extensively as to suit everyone’s taste.
But excitement was vibrating in the air. Petty himself noticed an unusual thrill in the audience. He commented that this was the best audience he had played for during his entire tour. One of the guys that came with us, who had been to Petty’s concert in New York a few weeks ago, recalled that Petty didn’t say anything like this at that performance. Yes, we were different. It made the night all the more special.
The smell ot pot enveloped the stadium, and as the night progressed more and more people began to sit down to groove in their seats instead of dancing. Petty introduced a new song, “Driving to Georgia,” which told the deep story of a man driving to Georgia and eating peaches. The song was pretty bad and the lyrics were worse, but we were at a Tom Petty concert and it didn’t really matter. We continued to scream along with the audience about picking peaches from a tree in Georgia.
One more trip to the restrooms was in order, and I found myself waiting in line talking to an overexcited teenage girl from Philadelphia who paid two hundred dollars for her third-row seat. Her face was bright red from dancing, and she couldn’t stand still.
I made my way back to the seats on the top level. Everyone around us seemed pretty comatose by this point. We danced anyway — it was more fun that way.
I was disappointed that Petty didn’t make much of an effort to entertain the audience. I must admit that the best rock concerts are those in which the singer speaks to the audience, when it seems as if we’re getting to know the performer. Billy Joel and Rod Stewart are definitely the most charismatic performers that I have ever seen; they joke and talk about their music and what it means to them.
Although Petty was disappointing in this aspect, he did make a funny remark in the middle of the concert: “There are rumors floating around that I abuse substances. I just want everyone to know that I am one hundred percent sober, but I’m high as a kite.” It was just about the only thing Petty said during the show’s two-and-a-half hours. Thanks, Tom. We could have guessed that.
I was waiting to hear “American Girl,” my all-time favorite Tom Petty song, throughout the entire concert. My friends kept trying to convince me to leave: “We should beat the crowd.”
“No,” I responded. “We have to wait for ‘American Girl.'” Petty left the stage and we screamed our lungs out for the goofy-looking man with long blond hair to reemerge. Petty’s second encore was an amazing version of “American Girl.” My faith in him was rewarded. I knew he wouldn’t skip it.