The Fillmore, San Francisco, March 8, 1999
For his second sold-out night in a seven-night stand at the legendary Fillmore (a limited engagement compared to his twenty-night stint in 1997), Tom Petty kept his stage patter to a minimum and let his music do the talking.
With his Heartbreakers in tow, Petty previewed material from his forthcoming album, Echo, and ran through two decades of his own music as well as a ragged, wide-reaching batch of covers.
The entourage kicked in with a charged version of the Fifties track “Rip It Up,” and slipped into gear with “Jammin’ Me,” a song co-written with Bob Dylan from 1987’s Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough). Though Petty noticeably ignored his hit-laden album Damn the Torpedoes, he dipped several times into his 1976 self-titled debut, turning in a few of the evening’s most rousing moments: “Breakdown,” “American Girl” and “Listen to Her Heart.” By contrast, a solo acoustic version of “Angel Dream” from 1996’s She’s the One soundtrack proved listless, though the new track “I Don’t Wanna Fight” from Echo held more promise.
Petty peppered the somewhat disjointed set with a hodgepodge of covers, including the Zombies’ “I Want You Back Again,” Booker T’s “Green Onions” and a not-so-slick version of the Sixties surf rock tune “Telstar.” The band switched styles as often as Mike Campbell and Petty changed guitars (just about every song) — from the Fifties hit “I Got a Woman,” to a zydeco-esque “Little Maggie,” to the Thirties folk song “Lay Down My Old Guitar” — making it difficult for the band to fall into a groove.
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Still, most of the crowd stuck through the set, holding out for their own Petty favorites, as well as the encore, which turned out to be a bit clichT: the old MTV staple “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and a traditional rendition of the all-too-covered “Gloria.” But his fans appreciated all that was offered. As one attendee wrote to Petty on a large hanging message pad on the way out, “Your simple groove fills my soul.”
Speaking of groove, opening act War jazzed up their timeless classics and filled the stage with a wash of Seventies-style psychedelic colors. Tunes like “Low Rider,” “Cisco Kid,” “Why Can’t We Be Friends” and “Spill the Wine” enticed the aging crowd (most of whom were likely in college when these songs were hits) into a hip sway and sing-along, breathing life into the old adage “a hard act to follow.” Petty tried, but couldn’t quite match their upbeat stride.