One of the best shows of the year was a typical Tom Petty show: teeming with hits and hyper-fueled by a premium performance by one of the best rock bands ever.
Friday’s show at the Sprint Center was Petty’s first Kansas City concert in nearly seven years. It wasn’t supposed to be. In 2014, Petty scheduled a September show at the Sprint Center, but before tickets went on sale, it became one of two shows canceled for scheduling “conflicts,” which turned out to mean he got a better offer to do two shows on those dates at Red Rocks in Denver.
That jilting wasn’t acknowledged during Friday night’s show, which was a 40th birthday party for Petty and his band, the Heartbreakers. On this night, bygones were bygones; Petty, his band and the large, adoring crowd that stuffed the arena to the rafters were in a constant celebratory mood, starting with “Rockin’ Around (With You),” the show’s first song, which is, not coincidentally, the opening track to the band’s self-titled debut album, released in November 1976.
From there, the 19-song set list plumbed a band catalog that comprises 13 studio albums and a solo catalog that comprises three. Nearly every song aroused a sing-along, some more uproarious than others, but each evinced the durability of Petty’s songs, which, no matter their age, felt timeless or independent of the decades in which they were born.
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And then there’s his band. The Heartbreakers are America’s Rolling Stones: one of its most respectable, esteemed and longest-running rock acts. During introductions, Petty presented everyone warmly, starting with the Webb Sisters, Hattie and Charlie, two Brits who sang backup vocals and added some occasional percussion.
From there, he proceeded through the band, introducing drummer Steve Ferrone as the “kid” because he’d been a member the least amount of time: nearly 24 years. He saved the most heartfelt intros for Benmont Tench, his keyboardist, and Mike Campbell, whose days with Petty precede the Heartbreakers by several years. Whatever it is that has kept the band together so long comes out in their music and stage presentation – a deep, telepathic connection that looks and sounds fraternal.
All were provided ample room to showcase their musical skills. On “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Campbell and Petty dexterously shared lead-guitar duties, as they would later in the extended jams during “It’s Good to Be King” and “Crawling Back to You.” On “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and “Yer So Bad,” Tench delivered sprite and jazzy keyboard fills and colorings.
The stage was set with a triptych of video screens that delivered plenty of visual distractions, much of it live images of the band members. Above the band, a flock of glowing balls spent the night changing colors and engaging in a variety of choreographed and synchronized moves, rising and dropping and flitting as if wind-swept. And the sound crew deserves a few hosannas: The sound in the arena was impeccable all night.
Petty has always been a live entertainer who knows damn well why his fans buy tickets: to hear his hits. And he indulged them lavishly Friday night. He left out a few big ones – no “Breakdown” or “Don’t Do Me Like That” – but he replaced them with other favorites, none more appreciated than “Walls,” from the “She’s the One” soundtrack, which featured a few blues-harp blasts from Petty.
Other highlights: “Wildflowers,” which was elevated to another level by the Webb Sisters and their diaphanous harmonies; “Free Fallin’,” to which the crowd sang along feverishly from start to finish; “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” the source of yet another boisterous sing-along, especially the line about rolling a joint; “Refugee,” the only track from “Damn the Torpedoes” that made the cut; and the song that closed the first set, “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” a galloping rock song that drew plenty of well-timed “whooo-hooos” out of the crowd.
They weren’t done. As he and his band took the stage for the encore, Petty bowed and blew kisses to his crowd, patting his heart with one hand a few times, recalled the Heartbreakers’ first Kansas City show in 1977, thanked the crowd and advised why they play here often: “You always came back.” On stage, his humility is exceeded only by his sincerity.
They ended with two more blockbusters. First, “You Wreck Me,” another fiery but melodic guitar-driven anthem, and then “American Girl,” a definitive Petty song if there is one and the final track on their debut album. Like any great song, the initial chime of an electric guitar to define it and send the big crowd into another fit of sing-along euphoria. Which, as anyone who has seen him knows, is typical for a Tom Petty show.
Joe Walsh: The Wichita native and classic-rock legend warmed up the big crowd with a jam-filled set of hits and favorites. Backed by a nine-piece ensemble that included four backup singers and two drummers, he delivered several of his own classics, like the James Gang’s “Funk #49,” “In the City,” “Ordinary Average Guy,” “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way” plus a spot-on version of the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit.”
Rockin’ Around With You; Mary Jane’s Last Dance; You Don’t Know How It Feels; Forgotten Man; You Got Lucky; I Won’t Back Down; Free Fallin’; Walls; Don’t Come Around Here No More; It’s Good to Be King; Crawling Back to You; Wildflowers; Learning to Fly; Yer So Bad; I Should Have Known It; Refugee; Runnin’ Down a Dream. Encore: You Wreck Me; American Girl.