Tom Petty is an unrelenting creation soul that the world continues to grieve, even three years since his sad death in 2017. He was a true rock ‘n’ roll icon, one who bowed out in epic style while performing at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles just a week before his death. It was a stellar two-hour performance for the ages as Petty flexed his muscles to put on a show of the finest calibre—but little did he know that he would never step foot on the stage ever again.
Seeing and hearing Petty perform so perfectly just a week before he would suffer a fatal cardiac arrest is as heartwrenching and heartwarming in equal measures. On the one hand, it showed that Petty never lost his showmanship and was still the same high octane performer that released his near-faultless debut album Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers over 40 years prior to that moment. However, it also tragically showed just how much he had left to give. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was going to go out with a bang and anyone who was lucky enough to witness his brilliance can vouch for Petty, an artist always giving every last drop of energy while on stage, treating every show as if it is possibly his last.
Petty had said before he took to the road for the tour, which was to commemorate 40 years of the Heartbreakers, that the run of dates would be his “last big one”, as he explained: “We’re all on the backside of our sixties,” he said before talking hopefully about what the future held with him whilst he arrived into semi-retirement, “I have a granddaughter now I’d like to see as much as I can. I don’t want to spend my life on the road. This tour will take me away for four months. With a little kid, that’s a lot of time.”
The Hollywood Bowl concert that capped off the epic tour would turn out to be Petty’s final hurrah was the third in a trio of sold-out dates at the iconic Los Angeles venue, a space that holds 17,500 people — of all the places to bow out, Petty couldn’t have wished for anywhere better.
The final song in the set couldn’t have been any more perfect, Petty led the sell-out crowd through a euphoric rendition of his magnum opus ‘American Girl’ to rapturous applause. Petty and his merry men first released the gloriously brilliant number as the final track on Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers self-titled debut which, at the time of release, was a slow-burner in the charts with crowds taking a while to discover their magnificence. Despite the track nor the album becoming a commercial hit, both would become fan favourites with Petty fans over the years that would follow.
Tom Petty once said of this song: “I wrote that in a little apartment I had in Encino. It was right next to the freeway and the cars sometimes sounded like waves from the ocean, which is why there’s the line about the waves crashing on the beach. The words just came tumbling out very quickly — and it was the start of writing about people who are longing for something else in life, something better than they have.”
If you told Petty that over 40-years after he wrote the track that he would be performing the number as the finale to a three-night residency at the Hollywood Bowl, I’m confident in predicting that he would be overawed with the career that he went on to have. It’s a tragedy that he passed away so soon after this performance, one which captured Petty on razor-sharp form which deserves to be marvelled at.
See the clip, below.