Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers playing an intimate Saturday night show in the midst of a sold-out six-night run is an obvious hot ticket. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too hot for the fire marshal last night.
About ninety minutes into the set at L.A.'s Fonda Theatre, following a sterling cover of the Grateful Dead’s "Friend Of The Devil," Petty announced from the stage that he had been summoned to the side and warned by the fire marshal that the floor was a hundred people over capacity. Everything seemed fine as he jokingly asked if a hundred people wanted to voluntarily head upstairs or leave, and even some of the Heartbreakers joined in the fun, raising their hands for an early departure. Petty then said, "I’ve done my job, now I’m gonna do what I do best." And with that, the night continued with a rousing extended "Melinda." That would turn out to be the last song of the night, however, for as much as Petty tried to play off the warning in good spirits, even he acknowledged that fire marshals don't have much of a sense of humor.
He told a story about how he was going to take this very seriously because he made a joke during a similar situation at the Forum in 1980 and got in trouble. This time, there was no opportunity for trouble. As soon as "Melinda" wrapped, Petty said, "We’re being told we have to go." And with that, the band departed the stage, leaving many stunned, and once the house lights quickly came up the cheers turned to loud boos. Outside the venue some angry patrons were seen yelling at the fire marshal.
Their anger was understandable, as the early cut-off put an abrupt end to what had been a profound night of music. As he has done at both the Beacon Theater in New York and the first three nights of this run, Petty was digging deep, mixing in standards like "Here Comes My Girl" with a dazzling triple play of acoustic songs in the middle of the set that included "Rebels," "Two Gunslingers" and an absolutely perfect "Angel Dream (No. 2)" from the underrated She’s The One soundtrack.
He also played a cover of the Traveling Wilburys' "Tweeter And The Monkey Man," which he recalled co-writing when Bob Dylan came into a Wilburys session and said he wanted to write a song about "a character named Tweeter." According to Petty, Dylan added that it should have another character, which prompted Petty to come up with the Monkey Man, setting the tale in New Jersey, and making mention of Bruce Springsteen. Petty then added, "The English guys said this is too American, we’re going home." The spirit of spontaneity and Petty’s comfort with the intimate setting was apparent throughout as they covered Paul Revere & The Raiders’ "(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone" and J.J. Cale’s "I’m Not Your Lover."
Among the other highlights were a sublime "The Best Of Everything" and an arena-rock-worthy rendition of 1983’s "A Woman In Love (It’s Not Me)." There was promise for many more standouts on this night, but they were not to be.
Update: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released a statement addressing the incident on Sunday afternoon. "To those fans who attended last night's show at the Fonda Theatre, we are as frustrated as you are!" they wrote. According to the band, both the venue and Ticketmaster documentation confirmed that the number of tickets sold was not above the legal capacity of the building. They also noted that the fire marshal had determined that it was the number of people on the floor, rather than in the balcony or on the terrace, that was unsafe.
"We are still investigating all details of last night's situation and will keep you informed," the statement says. "The shows at the Fonda tonight and Tuesday will go ahead as planned and we are working with the venue, the promoter and the Fire Marshal to ensure that this problem will not repeat itself."