The following confession may shock some of you who know me well: I have been a Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers fan longer than I have been a U2 fan. There, I said it. Now that in no way lessens my adoration for those four Irishmen. It’s just a matter of fact. My brother and I are the babies of a large family of cousins. Growing up, our closest cousins were 10 years older than us. My exposure to Tom Petty’s brand of rock and roll came at about the age of 7 or 8 from pestering my older cousins while visiting my aunt and uncle. I thought they were cool, and I thought I was cool if I liked their music. As it turned out, I really did love the music.
Music for me falls into two categories: U2 and Led Zeppelin and other. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers ranks in the Top 5 of the Other category. There is a laid back simplicity to his music, but at the same, it’s some of the greatest guitar rock of all time. It has a southern bluesy sound which alternates with an almost folk music like vibe thrown in for good measure. I had wanted to see him live for years, but life always got in the way. When I learned he was hitting the road again and stopping in Little Rock, I knew this was the time. The fact that the show fell three days after my birthday was the icing on the cake.
Little Rock is just under a four hour drive from where we live. After a delayed start, we arrived at our hotel just before 5:00. We took a little time to try and map out the area which I hadn’t the time to do sooner. The show was a 7:30 start so we headed over around 6:45. When we got downtown, all of the parking is cash pay only, and hubby forgot to get cash before we left town. Two ATMs and twenty minutes later, we have cash. Parking was more of a challenge, but we found a lot near Verizon Arena.
I was expecting an eclectic crowd and wasn’t disappointed. Hipsters, bikers, yuppies, families, couples of all ages and just about any other type you can think of mingled there that night. What I had not, but should have, anticipated was the level of pre-show intoxication.
We got in line to grab some water and a soda, and there were more than a few people in line who were probably already over the legal limit.
Regina Spektor was the opening act, and I’m only slightly familiar with her. Due to bad sound quality during her set, I’m still not familiar with her. A lot of the twenty-something girls seemed to really enjoy her performance. The wait between the opening act and the main event was pretty short, but it provided for some interesting people watching. I found the drunk middle aged women particularly amusing. We were in the rafters of the arena, and it was entertaining watching women who should be old enough to know better try to act like they’re not. Sorry, ladies, it’s just not cute over thirty-five.
Tom and his band took the stage around 9:00. It was an amazing show! The energy of the band was fantastic. Watching them perform, you would never know he is now 61 years old. Dressed in a long overcoat, Tom cut quite the rock and roll figure. They mixed in some rarer tracks with classics like “Refugee”, “Free Fallin'”, and “Running Down a Dream”. They even threw in a Traveling Wilburys track, “Handle with Care”, which was awesome. The encore songs were “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, and my favorite of the band’s, “American Girl”.
The stage was old school rock and roll. No huge LED screens, no video feeds, but really effective, simple lighting. The sound wasn’t great at times, but I knew all the words anyway.
The behavior of some “fans” was disappointing. I guess in the cheap seats some people think that gives them a license to behave badly. I get that this was a rock concert, but there’s a line of acceptability. Yes, weed was in the air which didn’t surprise me. I actually preferred the stoned to the drunk. They were at least mellow. The drunk were obnoxious, and the really young were more interested in beer runs than the show which is sad. One idiot came close to ruining the night, and when he blocked my view, I told him in language which I knew he could understand to move. My husband was concerned that trouble would start, but idiot, after a few comments, actually left! In hindsight, it wasn’t a smart move, and I really hadn’t planned it. I’m glad I didn’t start trouble, but I don’t apologize for standing up to the jerk when no one else would.
I was also shocked that most people sat through the show! I tried and failed.I had an aisle seat (purposely), and I’m 5′ tall. I wasn’t blocking anyone so I got up danced, screamed, cheered and sung along. I had a lot of steam built up over the last few months that needed to be released, and this show did just that.
Given the chance, I’ll see him again. It was rock at it’s best which is the way this petite teacher likes it. Next time, we won’t be in the cheap seats. I’ll leave those to the college kids, drunks, and stoners. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers proved that age really is a number and a mind set. I really hope my Irishmen are taking note of Springsteen and Petty, both, because they’re still a decade behind them.
Our adventure continued the next day with a side trip to a historic site which deserves it’s own telling.