February in the Philadelphia region can be a cruel, cruel month. It’s usually cold and often snowy, with icicles dangling from gutters and tree limbs like daggers aimed at spring. Such was not the case in 1990, however. We were in the midst of a mild, mild winter – the mean temperature for December 1989 was 41; January’s was 56; and February’s was 60.
That’s not to say the days and nights were sans inclement weather – it rained 10 days and flurried on two. This specific day, Tuesday the 6th, the temps aligned with the overall warming trend: We experienced a high of 59 and a low of 30. But it was an even hotter night in South Philly, where Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers played the Spectrum.
At the time, I managed the CD departments at two locations for a regional video-store chain, one of which had a Ticketmaster machine – which was how two floor tickets for this concert fell into my lap. Just as the store’s doors opened at 10am sharp, the person manning the machine pushed a button, and my tickets printed and were put to the side as a stream of fans flowed to the counter to purchase theirs.
At least, that’s how it usually worked; but time, distance and memory being what they are, I don’t recall this specific transaction.
Why I bought the tickets: I’d been a fan of Petty’s since 1979 and “Refugee”…
…and bought many – though not all – of his albums in the years that followed. He was dependable – even his worst LPs were better than most. And, too, he seemed like a good guy. Not only did he fight to keep record prices low (famously threatening to title the album that became Hard Promises “Eight Ninety Eight” if his label upped its retail price to $9.98), but in the late ‘80s he showed up on one of my favorite TV shows, It’s the Garry Shandling Show, as a friendly neighbor.
Anyway, by 1990, he was riding high from the unexpected blockbuster success of Full Moon Fever, his first solo album, which had been released the previous April. But, for me and my tastes, I preferred and played his previous album with the Heartbreakers, 1987’s Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), more often. It was looser and less polished, and had hooks galore. His under-appreciated 1985 album Pack Up the Plantation was another (double) platter I often played, in those days. It wasn’t just a run-through of his greatest hits, but a smart set with some way-cool covers. Here’s one of my favorites from it:
To the show itself: My memory is decidedly cloudy – I didn’t even remember that Lenny Kravitz, who we’d seen three months earlier at the Chestnut Cabaret, opened until Diane reminded me of it a week or two ago. What I do recall: Our view of the stage was stellar; the early portion of the set spotlighted Full Moon Fever, which was followed by Stan Lynch’s “Down the Road a Piece” and Benmont Tench’s “Ben’s Boogie” (an extended bathroom break/beer run); and the totally unexpected (by me, at least) cover of Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air.”
It was a a magical moment, that song.
I also recall the show’s final quarter, when Petty and the Heartbreakers cranked up some of their biggest, best and hardest-hitting numbers: “You Got Lucky,” “Rebels,” “I Need to Know,” “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”
The encores were good, too: “The Waiting” and “American Girl.”
All in all, it was a solid concert with stellar moments – not great, but good. The emphasis on Full Moon Fever, while understandable, would have been fine if the show ran longer than an hour and a half, or if the extended bathroom break/beer run had been replaced with a few more of Petty’s past classics.
In the years that followed, I often contemplated seeing Petty and the Heartbreakers again. That I didn’t is easily, now, one of my greatest regrets. He had a knack for creating cool and concise tunes that were packed with hooks, and for writing lyrics that said something.
Here’s an entire concert – same setlist – from five days earlier, in Providence, R.I.
- Love Is a Long Road
- A Mind With a Heart of Its Own
- I Won’t Back Down
- Free Fallin’
- Down the Road a Piece (Stan Lynch)
- Ben’s Boogie
- Don’t Come Around Here No More
- A Face in the Crowd
- Listen to Her Heart
- Something in the Air
- Alright for Now
- Yer So Bad
- You Got Lucky
- I Need to Know
- Runnin’ Down a Dream
- The Waiting **
- American Girl **
(** = encore)