The Orange County Register — August 23, 2008

Tom Petty sticks to his blueprint in Irvine
By Ben Wener
The Orange County Register — August 23, 2008

There oughta be a law about this sort of thing.

Hustle it through the state legislature, hurry it to the Governator before it happens again and dub it Live Music Ordinance 90125.5150: All classic rockers with at least 20 years of staples to draw from who schedule more than one show in the Southern California region within a six-month period are required to swap out a minimum of a half-dozen songs from gig to gig. More would be preferable.

First offense: a bad review. Second offense: we start hawking your albums and tour merchandise on eBay for dirt cheap. Third offense: permanent boycott. (This rule has to adhere to the three strikes law, doesn’t it?)

Frankly, lifelong fan though I am of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, if I had the authority I’d slap ’em with a stiff fine for what they pulled Friday night at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.

Before you accuse me of being overly harsh, consider the facts.

Less than two months ago, you may recall, the Hall of Famers played a positively superb set at the Hollywood Bowl, arguably the best performance I’ve seen them give all decade. So good, I’ll admit, that a solid case could be made for a cut-for-cut rerun – which is very nearly what Petty and the boys served up in Irvine.

Right – but that doesn’t excuse blatant redundancy. Regardless how robust they still sound – you’re not apt to find purer rock ‘n’ roll anywhere, free from pretension and message but never depth and meaning – Petty and the Heartbreakers are now among those diamond-encrusted legends for whom even decent seats fetch a steep price, and who thus send expectations skyrocketing. (Having to live up to their storied past doesn’t help, either.)

My quite-good seat in row DD of the loge had a pre-service-charge face value of $115. At that cost, would it have been so much to ask that an artist with such a trove of treasured songs yank out a few extra gems?

“Yeah, but how many people who came tonight also went to the Bowl show?” asks Brad, one of our copy editors, who I ran into on the way out. Good point – and I haven’t any means to distill an answer. But I’m inclined to think more than a few double-dipped.

Ponder this comment left on my Bowl review, by a reader identified as “OlSkool”:

“Matter of fact, we were so thrilled with last night’s (Bowl) show that I went online this a.m. and bought another round of tickets for the show in Irvine in August … mainly because I heard several people saying they were going to do the same and I didn’t want to miss another chance to see these guys play again.”

I suspect such an avid Pettyphile came away satisfied – I certainly found no fault with the actual performance, either. “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” punctuated by a Petty (as opposed to a Mike Campbell) guitar solo, had more sting than at the Bowl. “Saving Grace” continues to get drowned in entrancing psychedelia in its middle. Campbell’s high slide on “A Face in the Crowd” was a weeping beauty. I can still hear the dramatic piano filigree Benmont Tench applied throughout “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” such a hard-charging tune you’d think it wouldn’t allow for such stately flourishes.

All the same, I can’t help but wonder if “OlSkool” isn’t scratching his head like I am, baffled by the repetition. “But Ben,” you plead, “these cats are getting older. Maybe it’s better for them to stick to routine. Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, ZZ Top, the Who, U2, your precious David Bowie – they scarcely change things up, either.”

Yeah – they should be fined, too.

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