good to be king: Tom Petty at SPAC.
Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Black Crowes
Performing Arts Center, July 30
Ask anyone who’s seen one of the bajillion Eagles or Stones
late-career tours, and they’ll say something like, “Sure,
they were good, but they aren’t the same band they used to
be.” It’s true—more often than not, once bands reach the 30-year
mark, they start piling on kindling to feed the bonfire, adding
auxillary members to cover the fact that the principal players
have gone to pot.
Somehow Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have avoided the late
slide. They are the band they used to be (more true
than ever with original bassist Ron Blair back in the fold),
mostly because they’ve never had to rely on flash to sell
their music. At Saturday night’s SPAC show, the most dazzling
effect was a neon-bordered, multipanel screen that looked
left over from the band’s ’85 tour. No fireworks necessary
here; it’s all about that fine, fine music, a glossary of
summer sounds that, along with its author, has aged remarkably
well. It’s not like the audience was paying attention to the
stage anyway—from the smell of things on the hill, they were
much too busy getting fried. (Can you blame them? On quick
count, Petty’s had about 13 hit singles about smoking grass.)
Speaking of fried, Petty came decked out in an olive-green
suede jacket and grungy black T-shirt, with a paisley scarf
loosely knotted ’round his neck. Between the retirement-home
rummage-sale outfit and the hippy-dippy arm waving, he accidentally
resembled Stevie Nicks. But musically, Grandma Tom was in
fine form, leading the Heartbreakers through 20 tunes, selected
from every phase of his long career.
With no new product to promote, this easily could have been
a gutless greatest-hits romp, but Petty’s too smart a performer
for that. Instead, the set list ran the gamut from the expected
(the early-set crowd pleaser “You Don’t Know How It Feels”)
to the surprising (an exquisite “Angel Dream”; Petty remarked
that this was among his favorite songs from his own catalog),
with a few sidesteps (a raucous rendition of the Animals’
“I’m Cryin’”) to keep things interesting.
Among the surprises was the band’s take on the Traveling Wilburys
hit “Handle With Care.” Petty, along with ace-in-the-hole
guitarist Mike Campbell, covered the George Harrison parts,
while go-to guy Scott Thurston took Roy Orbison’s heavenly
bridges. Stripped of its original all-star-band hokum, it
showed the face of a lean rock tune with real hooks, a highlight
in a show that was chock full of ’em.
More highlights: a rendition of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,”
on which Petty slipped fully into surrogate-Dylan mode; “Don’t
Do Me Like That” and “Breakdown,” both back in the rotation
after quite some time; and a Western- flavored new song called
“Melinda” (minus a lengthy and dull piano solo from the otherwise
clutch Benmont Tench).
Drummer Steve Ferrone, an old session-and-workshop cat who
just happens to spend his summers slumming it in a rock band,
frequently changed up breaks and tucked needless polyrhythms
into his patterns. The alterations worked sometimes, but on
“Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Petty actually looked to be caught
off-guard by a few of the fills. Nitpicking aside, Ferrone
earned his keep tenfold the moment he hit the memorable intro
to “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” as Campbell, looking
a bit like Gary Oldman in True Romance, broke out the
Jerry Jones electric sitar for that classic lead line.
there, it was all aces: “Refugee” featured a Campbell solo
that veered from minimalist—he stretched three notes over
16 bars—to incendiary; “Runnin’ Down a Dream” simply growled;
and “American Girl” . . . well, if there’s a better summer
song, I’d like to hear it. I’ll bet it’s still in radio rotation
another 30 years on.
The Black Crowes finished off their hour-plus opening set
with “Remedy.” Back on the road after a four-year downtime,
the group sounded tight and groovy, with original drummer
Steve Gorman back behind the kit and making the most of the
space between the beats. Unfortunately, the nightmarish influx
of traffic left a sizeable portion of the sold-out audience
(including yours truly) combing greater Saratoga for a parking
miracle during most of the Crowes’ set.
Arena, July 28
When was the last time you attended a pop concert with end
That should give you an idea of the elaborate showmanship
of the Destiny’s Child farewell tour. Thursday’s show was
all about flash. The cakelike, semicircular stage had cream-colored
curtains bordered at the top with a narrow, wraparound strip
of video panels. The curtains doubled as a silvery screen
for light projections; the panels provided a nonstop multimedia
experience. The stage had trap doors; the floor rotated; and
there were large moving risers.
There was singing, too. And it was a tribute to the singers
(and their outsized personalities) that they were never dwarfed
by bells and whistles.
After a self-congratulatory intro, the curtains opened and
the trio appeared. They let loose with “Say My Name,” digging
in to the song’s jealous, angry tone, which built to a kind
of self-affirming, negative ecstasy.
The songs that followed were like the greatest-hits album
that inevitably will follow when their current disc drops
off the charts: “Bills Bills Bills,” “Independent Women, Part
1,” “Jumpin Jumpin,” “No No No,” and “Bootylicious.” It reminded
everyone why Destiny’s Child, despite being famously litigious
with ex-members and, well, just generally weird, were so popular—and
worth listening to.
All three members—Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams and Beyoncé
Knowles—seemed quite happy; the breakup must agree with them.
They sounded great together, too. That their best songs were
lumped together at the start, however, was the tip-off that
this evening was really about the post-DC careers of Rowland
and Beyoncé. Especially Beyoncé.
Rowland sang her hit (“Dilemma”), followed by Williams with
a forgettable gospel tune. Then Beyoncé—who, unfortunately,
did not descend from the rafters upside down while singing,
as on the MTV awards—took over with “Baby Boy” and “Naughty
Girl.” The gauzy softcore vibe was a striking contrast with
the group’s earlier hard-edged, assertive tone; it wasn’t
Solo spots alternated with group numbers from then on, with
endless dance interludes to facilitate costume changes. It
became obvious where things were headed: The penultimate number
would be Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” then the trio with “Survivor.”
That’s exactly what happened. Beyoncé tore it up on “Crazy,”
and all three did likewise with the anthemic “Survivor.” Folks
assumed it was over, and started streaming out.
It was a trick: The group appeared (prerecorded) on the video
panels, chastising folks for leaving and telling ’em, sternly,
to sit back down. (They obliged.) It was an entertaining moment,
and gave Destiny’s Child the last laugh.
Then the credits rolled. Showmanship triumphed, though musicianship,
on occasion, battled valiantly.
Three one-name openers performed to backing tracks. Tyra danced
well. Amerie demonstrated, singing with her own recorded backup
vocals, that she sounds just like herself; her screechy-catchy
hit “1 Thing” was great fun. Mario proved to be an ingratiating
singer, but the little girls didn’t scream until he removed
his shirt: It was a hormonal thing.
The Pete Best Band
Van Dyck, July 28
Any musician will tell you that the worst thing in the world
is getting kicked out of a band. Worse than a romantic breakup,
for sure. You can get over that. And if your ex-bandmates
then go on and make some noise, the hurt of rejection is multiplied
by cascading humiliation, anger and regret.
Pete Best is, plain and simple, the patron saint of all who
have ever suffered this ignoble fate. He got it worse than
anybody ever had or ever will. And here he was, with a band
of Liverpudlian blokes, running the Beatles’ set list circa
1961 (the year before he got the boot).
This wasn’t a glamour show, or some cheesy B-list celebrity
deal, or a watered-down nostalgia trip—it was a pro bar band
playing the stuff that another pro bar band played some 45
years ago just before changing the face of pop music forever.
The show was in one sense modest and understated—Best was
tucked back in the corner playing a small drum kit, and came
out front twice during the set to chat up the crowd—but it
was as authentic as could be.
The members of the band, who looked to range in age from mid-30s
to late 50s, were all dressed in black, were having a ball
playing this stuff, and in the best bar-band tradition, were
having more of a ball during their sizzling second set than
during the moderately rocking first set. Best’s little brother
Roag played on a second set of drums, and interestingly, usually
played completely different, but complementary, drum parts,
which added considerable power to the songs, but never cluttered
And what songs. “Slow Down,” “Please Mr. Postman,” “Till There
Was You,” “One After 909,” a killer “P.S. I Love You,” and
on and on. Various band members talked to the crowd, in that
happily ascerbic manner that recalled John Lennon, but must
be a wise-guy trait common to dudes from Liverpool.
It would have been fun to hear a few stories out of Best,
who looked trim, fit and happy. But he brought the early gestalt
of the greatest band ever to the Van Dyck, and you can’t ask
for any more than that.
5-1-8 representer Dezmatic hosted a burlesque show featuring
the beautiful Lipstick Lovelies at the Lark Tavern on Saturday
night (July 16). Here, sporting a Darth Vader helmet, Dez
breaks it down while the ladies take a break.