On Tom Petty’s Super Bowl Show

I like Tom Petty.

So when I heard that he was chosen to be the halftime entertainment at the Super Bowl, I was instantly intrigued.

The game? Didn’t really care about. Football’s not my sport. But Tom Petty? Yeah, I’d tune in for that.

The morning DJs I listen to on the morning commute had been mocking the choice of Tom Petty for weeks. “He’d be a great choice for Super Bowl Twenty-Two, not Super Bowl Forty-Two.”

But Tom Petty is one of the classic rock gods. A Tom Petty song is distinctive. It’s catchy. You know, right from the first guitar chords, that this is a Tom Petty song.

And that voice!

It’s a half-mumble, a half-whisper. And it carries with it such gravitas. And it’s so… nasal.

I’ve sometimes described Tom Petty as having the voice Bob Dylan would have if he didn’t sound like he’s on death’s door all the time.

Some people don’t like Tom Petty.

My sister, for instance. She just doesn’t like Tom Petty. Suffice it to say, she probably wasn’t looking forward to the Super Bowl halftime show.

But I was.

And at long last, the Super Bowl halftime show!

Petty’s set started off with “American Girl.” For some reason, this upbeat, up-tempo song was played as a kind of funereal dirge.

Then “I Won’t Back Down.” Again, this upbeat song, played with a funereal dirge to it.

Then, “Free Fallin’,” as the hold-up-the-lighters ballad. What? “Free Fallin'”? A song about slacker skateboarders? A hold-up-the-lighters ballad? What?

Finally, the set came to a close with “Running Down A Dream.”

And I was disappointed.

Because the morning DJs were right. Tom Petty’s set list would have been perfect. Twenty years ago.

He played nothing he’d written since I graduated from high school.

“Free Fallin'” was the perfect high school song.

Maybe the DJs were right.

Tom Petty let me down.

Or maybe I let myself down. Maybe I was expecting Tom Petty to be sheer genius. Maybe I was expecting a show that rocked.

Only… the show didn’t rock. It was amiable. It was inoffensive. The songs were played well. Petty conveyed them well. But when I listen to my Tom Petty CDs, there’s a drive and energy there that was wholly lacking from his Super Bowl concert.

But you know what?

Tom Petty had the biggest venue of his life. That’s not a shabby thing.

Yes, he may not have played the songs to my satisfaction, but there’s a hundred million people out there who thought they were fantastic.

And that’s what really matters, isn’t it? That someone, somewhere, thought Tom Petty was fantastic. :)

One thought on “On Tom Petty’s Super Bowl Show

  1. First of all, Free Fallin’ is not a song about skateboard slackers. Secondly, the Super Bowl halftime show was a VERY watered down version of a Petty live show. Obviously, you’ve never seen The Heartbreakers live. Furthermore, he couldn’t sing “get to the point and roll another joint” on network TV. It was what it was.
    Regardless, everybody everywhere thinks Petty is fantastic. No matter how bland the Super Bowl show was.

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