Editor’s Note: Acclaimed rocker Tom Petty, 66, performed in Iowa earlier this year in Des Moines as part of his 40th year anniversary tour with his band, the Heartbreakers. It was thought at the time that this might be his last extended tour before settling into more sporadic appearances.
On this sad day, we look back at when Tom Petty performed in Cedar Rapids, apparently stalking across the stage at the age of 52, "like a young lion."
Petty’s well-chosen mix energizes C.R. crowd - Classics, new songs, covers really rock U.S. Cellular Center
By John Kenyon, the Gazette
CEDAR RAPIDS — If any rockers-in-training attended Tom Petty’s concert at the U.S. Cellular Center on Monday night, Petty gave them a show they ought to pore over the way linguists study the Rosetta Stone.
In a whirlwind set of classics, brand-new songs and well-chosen covers, Petty offered a textbook arena rock show, dazzling the crowd with a high-energy performance, simple yet effective visuals and goodwill to spare.
He started with a blazing take of “American Girl,” one of his first hits. It made the cavernous arena feel like a living room, the crowd of 5,000 joining as one to sing along. It felt more like a rousing closer than an opening, and Petty maintained that energy level for much of the rest of the show.
You’d never know Petty was 52 by the way he moved. In black leather pants and a red velvet jacket, he stalked across the stage like a young lion, shaking his hips from time to time to elicit a roar from the crowd.
The Heartbreakers, who include lifers Mike Campbell on guitar and Benmont Tench on keyboards, were tight and effective.
Original bassist Ron Blair, who took over for the late Howie Epstein, seemed at home in his old spot, while drummer Steve Ferrone and multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston were solid.
“The Last DJ,” the only song from Petty’s otherwise tepid recent album of the same name, didn’t have the same punch as the old tunes.
The need for reform in the radio industry doesn’t get the party started the way an empowerment anthem like “I Won’t Back Down” can.
Things picked up immediately with a rousing “Handle With Care,” a George Harrison song from Petty’s Traveling Wilburys days.
Petty continued to mix things up. “Melinda,” a new folksy tune that seemed more a worthy excuse to let Tench and Campbell jam than a song, and “Learning to Fly,” with Petty alone on acoustic guitar, were highlights.
He closed the main set with the Animals’ chestnut “I’m Crying” and his own “Refugee” and “Running Down a Dream.” The quick encore including Chuck Berry’s “Carol,” and Petty’s own “You Wreck Me” closed the show.
The only complaint was with the show’s length. For $55, you’d think Petty could play for more than two hours, and he didn’t quite reach that.
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Opener Mavis Staples may have seemed an odd choice, but her infectious energy and powerful vocals won over a crowd that initially seemed disinterested.
With a mix of gospel and blues that included “The Weight” and “Respect Yourself,” she powered through a short set that revved up the audience in a way that fully explained why Petty had her on the bill.