After a warm introduction from Bill Graham, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers took to the Winterland stage the night before the revered venue would be closed forever with a capstone set by the Grateful Dead on New Year’s Eve. Petty was a perfect installment to drive home the final days of Winterland and was very well-received by an audience of young San Franciscans, keeping his vibe upbeat but also tapping into some of the despondency that makes him so accessible as a musician to fans worldwide. Early in their career, Petty and the Heartbreakers only had two albums under their belts at the time of this show, the self-titled debut in ’76 and the 1978 follow-up You’re Gonna Get It!
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers kick things off with “Surrender” before launching into “Anything That’s Rock ‘N’ Roll” and proceed to play an hour and a half of early hits, carving out their signature sound of rollicking heartland rock to the Winterland audience. “Casadega” is a pretty, lesser-known ode about a town in Florida, and then Petty gets into the rest of his set with many of the favorites that have made him a household name: “I Need to Know,” “Refugee,” “Listen To Her Heart,” “American Girl,” and “Breakdown,” all renditions of classic songs that don’t, at this early stage of their career, bear the stamp of time that today weathers many Petty compositions. Petty chats with the audience, telling a funny story about a card game the night before introducing “another new song, Refugee.”
Tom Petty grew up in Gainesville, Florida and embraces an all-American sensibility in his songwriting, which recalls that of Bob Dylan, The Byrds, and Bruce Springsteen. Much of his compositions have a raucous vibe but are rooted in strong characters and stories of the downtrodden heroes of our culture. At 17, Petty left school to join Mudcrutch, who then relocated to LA just before breaking up. Petty remained active with some other musical ensembles before honing his songwriting skills with the Heartbreakers, and in 1976 the band released their self-titled debut, which was first a hit in England before American audiences caught on. A few years later, they released their breakthrough album, Damn the Torpedoes which spent seven weeks at number two on the US charts. And the rest, as they say, is history, and today Petty is one of rock’s most respected, enduring, and best loved performers.