BEING THERE: Tom Petty @ Wells Fargo Center

Photo by DAN LONG

EDITOR’S NOTE: This originally posted on 9/16/14. We are reposting it today to mark the sad passing of Tom Petty today at age 67.

I was in the sixth grade the first time I saw a picture of Tom Petty. He looked like a stick with blond bangs and lidded rabbit eyes. I was fairly certain he was going to die soon. Turns out he was just high. In October he turns 64 and having learned a thing or two about longevity over the course of the last 40 years, I’m pretty sure he’s never gonna die. Which would be just ducky with me and the 20, 000 people who showed up at the Wells Fargo Center — home of the $10 Stella and the $7.75 slice of pizza — last night. The band threw me at first — a bearded-and-dreadlocked Al Jourgensen on lead guitar? Barney Fife on rhythm guitar? Bryan Cranston in a Conway Twitty wig on bass? Far fuckin’ out, man! Turns out that was Heartbreakers — a dreadlocked Mike Campbell, Scott Thurston, and Ron Blair, respectively — one of the deadliest and unstoppable killing machines ever assembled in the name of rock and/or roll. Critics have crowned Springsteen the bard of the common man, but I would argue that Petty holds the keys that set the working man free from their cages on a Friday night for a few hours of beery elation and the occasional skyward fist pump. A lot of men climbed down off a lot of ladders to be there last night, my friend. And unlike Springsteen’s audience, no Tom Petty fan ever voted Republican. Anyway, how did they sound? Deathless. Petty was in fine voice, his reedy Dylan-esque drawl as withering as ever. The band alternately roared and purred, with surgical precision. The setlist alternated between choice cuts from the snarly/bluesy just-released Hypnotic Eye and the songs that anchor the soundtrack of our lives: “Refugee,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” “Free Fallin’,” “Yer So Bad,” “Learning To Fly,” and an endorphin-triggering cover of The Byrds’ “So You Want To Be A Rock N’ Roll Star.” Near the end, they brought out a mutton-chopped Steve Winwood, the tour’s opening act, to kill it on The Spencer-Davis Group’s white soul classic,“Gimme Some Lovin’,” which, judging by the crowd’s reaction, was sort of like bringing out Ferris Bueller to do “Twist And Shout.” They closed out the night with a searing, anthemic “American Girl,” the song that, more than anything any president or soldier or superhero has ever done in the name of public service, makes me proud to be born an American boy. Unlike so many of his rusting peers from the fast-vanishing Golden Age Of FM, Tom Petty never got old, he just became a classic. — JONATHAN VALANIA