Sunday, August 31, 2008

In the presence of a legend

There are very few bands or performers around today who I would classify as "legendary." I define "legendary" as one of the best of all time. U2, Aerosmith, The Rolling Stones, Willie Nelson, George Strait ... and Tom Petty.

I've had a general liking of Tom Petty's music, although I didn't really know it was him, since grade school. I heard some of his stuff on the radio and thought it was okay. I liked the Traveling Wilburys songs that I heard. I thought his "Don't Come Around Here No More" video was really entertaining. But I wasn't a real fan. My first real "wow" moment regarding his music, when his name really was planted into my consciousness, was when I saw Silence of the Lambs. "American Girl" was featured for a breif moment in the film, and I really liked it. Then the "Into the Great Wide Open" CD cmae out. It was one of the first five CDs that I ever owned, and I like it as much today as I did back in high school when I used to play it over and over as I sat at my drawing table working on art projects late into the night. It's fair to say that "Into the Great Wide Open" and Rush's "Roll the Bones" became the soundtrack for my Junior year in high school.

I bought my first Tom Petty album in college. It was his Greatest Hits album. At the time, being a college student with little money, my policy for awhile was to ONLY buy Greatest Hits albums. And I played the heck out of it. There wasn't a song on it that I didn't like and only a couple that I didn't really, REALLY like. In 1994 I bought the Wildflowers album - breaking my non-greatest hits policy - and really liked it, too. And then a few years later in 1997 I saw a thing on VH1 about him (I think this was pre-Behind the Music). I determined that if I ever got the chance I would like to see him in concert, but still didn't really consider myself a fan. After all, what would Rush and U2 think?

Fast forward eleven years. Even though we now own several more Petty albums and his work on some soundtracks (Elizabethtown being our favorite), if you had asked me in April I still would have said that I liked his stuff, but that I wasn't really a fan. Then, driving back to Brenham from Houston late one night when Kristi's grandmother had been rushed to the hospital (it was about 3am and Kristi, Kayci and Noble were all sleeping), I was flipping through the radio stations trying to stay awake as I drove between Brenham and Bellville. I happened to land on some kind of news/entertainment show that was talking about new CDs that were coming out soon. They began talking about a CD coming out from a band called Mudcrutch and how good it was. "Cool name for a band," I thought.

Then they told the story about how Tom Petty's band before The Heartbreakers was called Mudcrutch and how on a whim he had decided to get the band back together after thirty years or so to play around (it wasn't hard to get them back together because most of the members of Mudcrutch ended up becoming Heartbreakers). They ended up cutting an album in his home studio and it was due to come out in the next few days. I was curious, but let it go at that.

A few days later I was at work listening to iTunes when a Petty song came on and it made me remember the radio show I had heard. So I did a search in the iTunes store for Mudcrutch and found it. I listened to all of the previews and really liked what I heard. It had a really cool sound, but it was a little more country and bluesy than his usual stuff. So I downloaded it and burned it to CD to listen to in the truck. I found Mudcrutch infectious. Every now and then a CD comes out that defines a certain season or period in my life. Mudcrutch defined spring 2008. I just couldn't stop listening to it. I highly recommend it.

I get iTunes new music updates every Tuesday in my e-mail. One day in July in my weekly e-mail there was a sidebar with artists who were on tour. Tom Petty was one of those, so I looked into it. He was playing at the Woodlands on August 29. I asked Kristi if she was interested and she said "no, check with Johnny." Johnny, my college roommate and best friend said he would love to go, so we got tickets. Then, the week of the show I mentioned to another friend, Misty, that I would be near her house on Friday for the show. She and her husband, Jason, went to the show as well and we all met up at on the lawn.

Johnny and I got to the Woodlands pavilion just as Steve Winwood was finishing up as the opening act. Neither Johnny nor wanted to give up out Man Card for seeing a Winwood show, so we went and had barbecue instead. Tom Petty came on shortly after and I must say it was one of the quickest concerts I've ever seen. By that, I mean that even though he played for a full two hours, it seemed like only thirty minutes. And he played all of his biggest hits. But he also played a couple of his lesser-known songs and some older stuff. And at one point he and the Heartbreakers launched into a ten-minute jam. I was a little disappointed that the newest song he played was "Honey Bee" from Wildflowers. He's released some really good stuff since then, including "Saving Grace" and "Jack" from his Highway Companion album in 2006. And he didn't do ANY Mudcrutch, which I was really hoping for. Instead of "Gloria," I wish he had done "Crystal River," which would make a really nice free-form jam. And "Scare Easy" is easily as powerful as "Won't Back Down."

I've seen Willie Nelson play live three times - twice from less than 30 feet away. As I was standing there watching the show it occurred to me that this show had a very similar feeling. There's something really COOL about being in the same space as a true legend. Even though I was about a hundred yards away from the stage, it still felt great to be there in the presence of greatness. Like his music or not, you have to admit that the man has produced a body of work that is as engrained in our culture and that he's a master at what he does. And that says nothing about the Heartbreakers. Now THAT is an under-appreciated band. Watching Mike Campbell play the guitar was just incredible. I was standing there watching a legend of rock do what he does best. Part of me wishes I had ponied up for the $150 tickets. But that's the part of me that also made me buy purple pants in Jr. High. I've found it's best not to listen to that part very often.

So that's what I did with my Friday night. I rolled back into Brenham about 12:30 and plopped into bed, dead tired but thoroughly satisfied that I had finally gotten to see a performer of whom I will finally admit to being a fan.

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