The Killers paid tribute to one of their formative influences, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, by playing an explosive cover of “American Girl” at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cleveland on Saturday.
The Killers romped through Petty’s single, filling Cleveland’s Public Hall with clipped, rollicking drums and ringing guitars. Brandon Flowers sang with his usual theatrical gusto, finishing the performance by segueing briefly into another Petty classic, “Free Fallin.'” Shots of Petty flashed across the screen throughout the tribute.
The Killers have long cited Petty’s mainstream-rock sensibilities as an inspiration. In 2012, when discussing their fourth studio album Battle Born, drummer Ronnie Vannucci, Jr. told Fuse, “The Petty flavor is in us. It might have an ingredient or two [in our sound].”
Last year, in an interview published a day before Petty died, Vannucci discussed how the lead Heartbreaker’s first solo album taught him to think differently about songwriting. “Up until 10 years ago, I never really paid attention to lyrics,” he told Forbes. “I knew the words and stuff, but I didn’t pay attention. But I was a kid, I remember skateboarding and stuff and playing drums and Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever came out. ‘I Won’t Back Down’ was that fucking song that, even if you’re a 12-year-old kid, that time that I was becoming my own dude, that was really helpful. And it’s still one of my favorite songs. You can be 8 or 80 years old, I still think it’s one of those songs that, if you’re human, will resonate with you.”
The Killers paid tribute to its hero about a week after Petty died of an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers last October by including two Heartbreakers songs, “American Girl” and “The Waiting,” in their Austin City Limits Festival set list. “It was just like somebody stabbed you in the heart when you heard that he died,” singer Brandon Flowers said at the gig. “I wish we knew more [songs], I’d have played more if we knew more. … His music will never die and we’re grateful for all that he did, and I wish we could tell him.”
Additional reporting by Andy Greene