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Tom Petty: 10 Great Performances

From classic Heartbreakers gigs to duets with Stevie Nicks, Bob Dylan and Axl Rose

“Unless you’ve done it, you can’t understand what it is,” Tom Petty told Rolling Stone of the touring life earlier this year, in what would be his final interview with the magazine. “And if you’re not really experienced, you will fall.” During his four-decade-plus career, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer never shied away from the road. But last year even he was starting to see the end of the tunnel. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was thinking this might be the last big one,” he told RS. But Petty performed nearly until the very end: He played his last show at the Hollywood Bowl on September 25th, only one week prior to his death. Here’s our rundown of some of his best moments onstage. 

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“Tweeter and the Monkey Man” (2013)

Rather than trot out the hits like most musicians his age, in 2013 Petty made it his mission over a series of 11 shows at New York’s Beacon Theater L.A.’s Fonda Theatre to build his concerts around rarities. He performed “Rebels,” “Wildflowers” and “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me), but one of the biggest surprises was “Tweeter and the Monkey Man,” a Traveling Wilburys tune he penned with Bob Dylan. “No one has ever done it. So I just thought, ‘This would be interesting to try,'” Petty said shortly after the gigs. Of its original conception the singer recalled Wilburys bandmates George Harrison and Jeff Lynne thinking the song was “just too American,” so him and Dylan “just sat there for most of the afternoon, and then we edited it down the next day.”

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“American Girl” (2017)

In a sadly fortuitous move, Petty and the Heartbreakers billed this past summer’s 40th-anniversary tour as their last big tour. They certainly made the most of the opportunity: The band, in top-notch form, tore through a monumental set, typically starting out with “Rockin’ Around (With You),” the first song on their debut album, and always ending with an encore performance of “American Girl.” The final gig ended with an extended instrumental coda and a bow. Even to the end, Petty was a consummate showman. “If I was a fan and they didn’t play ‘American Girl’ or ‘Free Fallin,” I’d be disappointed,” he told Rolling Stone.

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