Tom Petty/ The Strokes
Gainesville, FL • Sept. 21, 2006
It’s been 13 years since Tom Petty had played for his hometown of Gainesville, FL. His big return to the University of Florida’s Stephen O’Connell Center was an event-and-a-half when The Strokes and- unannounced- special guest Stevie Nicks were added to the bill. The 9,000+ tickets sold out in under 10 minutes time, and the streets were lined with cries for tickets. Inside, the young and hip mingled with the been there/done that’s of the Petty generation.
Taking a humble step down from their own headlining sold-out tour across the world, NYC darlings The Strokes casually came onto the dimly lit stage and opened with “Is This It?” off of their groundbreaking debut of the same name. The band- when last I saw them (in 2004), had energy to spare and put on a memorable show that involved vocalist Julian Casablancas climbing a stack of speakers onto the second floor balcony where he hovered above the crowd- suffered from a lack of momentum from the largely “we’re only here for Tom” crowd on the floor. As their set rolled on and they threw out such pieces of pop perfection as “Hard To Explain,” “Reptilia” and “Juicebox” the crowd began to come around and the arena felt a little more intimate.
Casablancas was noticably more relaxed than during past performances, wandering around the stage during solos and even dancing a bit while he sang the catchier parts of tunes like “You Only Live Once.” He also repeatedly expressed how honored the band felt to be on a bill with the man whose song “American Girl,” he has previously admitted directly inspired the melody to “Last Nite” (a song that was, strangely, left off of the evening’s setlist). The Strokes are a club band whose cool exterior is best felt in a tight setting. As perfect as they sounded I couldn’t help but wish that they were back in the dark, drunken (did I mention the Stephen O’Connell Center is alcohol free?!) confines of the House of Blues.
Gainesville loves their hometown boy. When the great, and largely underrated, Tom Petty walked out with his band, The Heartbreakers, it was several minutes before the audience allowed their cheers to fade and the man to sing. Overwhelmed was the dominant emotion in Petty’s eyes for the night as his smile widened and he gazed around at his supporters, friends and fans. Earlier in the afternoon he was presented, by the Mayor of Gainesville, with a key to the city as well as a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from UF. Not a bad way to come home!
“It’s great to be back home… I look around and I see a lot of memories,” he said.
From very early on in the set the band offered up the old favorites (the second song was “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and “Free Fallin'” soon followed) alongside the new stuff from Highway Companion. They even tossed in a Travelling Wilbury’s song, “Handle With Care.” But the highlight for this, the only Florida date on the band’s big 30th Anniversary tour- a tour that Petty says may be his last with the full band- was when he brought out “honorary Heartbreaker” Stevie Nicks.
Though the former Fleetwood Mac vocalist has been appearing throughout the tour, most of the audience had no idea this was coming, so imagine the response. Absolute adoration and shock- a woman behind me was throwing herself against the front row barricade screaming her bloody head off! It was one of those moments you hope for when you attend a concert. When the two legends broke into a gorgeous duet on “Stop Draggin My Heart Around” it was five minutes of heaven.
If you couldn’t get into this hot ticket show, worry not- it was being recorded and broadcast over radio stations all over the country, and videotaped for both an upcoming A&E tv special and a film being put together by Peter Bogdanovich.
To see more photos of this and other shows, go to www.jencray.com.