Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 40th Anniversary Concert Tour at Royal Farms Arena

This past Sunday I went to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on their 40th Anniversary Concert Tour at Royal Farms Arena. It’s the third time I’ve seen Tom Petty live, but the first time I’ve managed to stay for the entire set. The first time I saw him was on the Wildflowers tour back when I was in high school. I went with my friends, my sister, and her boyfriend. My sister insisted on leaving before the encore and since her boyfriend drove we all wound up having to leave on her whim. A few years ago I went to one day of the Firefly Music Festival in Delaware. The day we went Tom Petty was the headliner, but this time I was the one who wanted to leave before it was over. He didn’t go on until almost midnight and we had an almost 2 hour drive home, so I wanted to cut out before the crowd left and resulted in us spending that long just trying to get out of the parking lot.

I’ve loved Tom Petty for a long time. I always say that my first indication that my love of my music was more shall we say intense and different than my friends should have been that while all my middle school aged friends were freaking out over NKOTB, I was over in the corner in love with Tom Petty’s song “Won’t Back Down”. Full Moon Fever was one of the first CDs I ever bought. Tom Petty is the only artist for whom I owned a box set. And I’ve long said that if I played baseball my walk up song would be “American Girl”. So basically what I’m saying is my love for Tom Petty is long and deep. So I was very excited to get to celebrate this milestone with him.

The opener was Peter Wolf formerly of the J. Geils Band so I found out. My husband was astonished I didn’t know that, but I said I never really cared for the J. Geils Band. There is something about their sound that I find off-putting. That held true listening to his set. I have no idea how many of the songs he played were J. Geils stuff versus his solo stuff because I only recognized one song, but certainly the songs that had that J. Geils feel to them I liked much less than the other ones.

Tom Petty’s set however was A+. It was like it was custom made for me. He did mostly just play his big hits, so it’s not like I was looking for him to dig very deep. However, there were a few pulls that I had hoped he’d play that I never dreamed he would. I have always loved the song “Yer So Bad”. I mean it was a single, so it had radio play but I don’t think it was ever a huge hit so I never really expected him to play it. I was super delighted when he did.

Wildflowers is decidedly my favorite Tom Petty album, and from what I read in his biography by Warren Zanes, which I highly recommend reading if you’re a Tom Petty fan, Tom Petty also views it as his best work. Thus I wasn’t super surprised that in addition to playing a couple of other songs from the album at other points in the show, he did a mini-set of songs from the Wildflowers album in the middle of the show. In addition to the title song, which is probably my favorite Tom Petty song ever, and “It’s Good to Be King”, he also played “Crawling Back to You”. As he pointed out it was a song that was never released as a single and thus something they rarely play. It’s definitely my second favorite song off of Wildflowers and might rank that high among all his songs for me. Until I was singing along with it, I had forgotten that I actually had used some lyrics from that song as my email signature my freshman year of college. I could not be happier that I got to hear him play it live.

The rest of the show was basically a string of hit singles spanning from the opening song they played, “Rockin’ Around (With You)”, which is the first song they ever recorded up through his most recent single from 2014, “The Forgotten Man”. It was one giant sing-a-long for 2+ hours. It was so much fun and was exactly what I was hoping for in the show.

I don’t know if he’ll stick to it or not, but I did read going into this tour that Tom Petty said he suspects it will be his last big tour. When he chooses to play live it will be some one off shows in smaller clubs. If this does wind up being his last big hurrah, he’s going out on a hell of a high note and I’m glad I got to be there for it.

The Big Sick

I love romantic comedies and dearly miss them. There have been very few rom-coms even made in the past decade or so and the few that have been made have pretty much all been garbage. Hollywood is apparently not interested in rom-coms anymore. They are not bankable overseas I would imagine, and that is apparently the only thing that matters anymore. I enjoy a good superhero film as much as anyone, but I’m really not interested in watching nothing but people blowing stuff up. Same thing for television where everything is now a prestige drama. Sometimes you just want to watch one of those blue sky USA shows that they no longer make but I loved. Sometimes I just want to watch something amusing and sweet that makes me leave the theater with a big smile on my face. Happily there is finally a movie out there that made me do just that.

This past Friday I finally got to see The Big Sick, which I had anxiously been awaiting since I first heard about it months ago coming out of some of the film festivals. The movie is loosely based on the true story of Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon. They wrote the movie and Kumail stars in it as himself along with Zoe Kazan playing Emily. Holly Hunter and Ray Romano play Emily’s parents.

The general story is that a few months into their relationship Emily winds up in a coma and Kumail develops a relationship with her parents and realizes how much Emily means to  him, which means he’s going to finally have to defy his Pakistani parents’ wishes for him to marry a Pakistani girl.

It’s a wonderful, hilarious, and heartfelt romantic comedy that probably is a little bit more com than rom, which makes sense since the female protagonist half of the relationship spends about a third of the movie in a coma. I laughed a ton and rooted for the couple to get together. All the things I’m supposed to do in a romantic comedy. I can only hope that this movie is a harbinger of more movies like it to come.

The Big Sick has been slowly rolling out into theaters across the country like they tend to do for smaller independent movies. If it hasn’t already, hopefully it will soon show up in a theater near you. Once it does run, don’t walk, to go see it. You won’t be sorry I promise you. Plus the better this movie does in theaters the more likely more movies like it will follow.

Cape Cod

After finishing up my conference in Chicago, I flew to Boston and headed out to Cape Cod where my sister and her family had rented a house for the week. I had mentioned I had a lot of vacation time to use by the end of June so she said why don’t you come to the Cape. We have plenty of room, and indeed they did. It worked out well for the rotating cast of my brother-in-law’s family who came in for a day or two from Boston while I was there.

My nieces are 8 and 5 now. It was good to see them since it had been six months since the last time I had seen them. They had lots of cousins coming in and out to play with though, so Aunt Danielle was much less interesting.

The house was really nice. It was about a half mile walk to the beach, which was a little farther than one might have wanted especially with kids but it worked out okay. I didn’t mind the walk and the kids were mostly troopers about it. We didn’t really wind up spending that much time on the beach anyway as it was chilly. The temperatures were only in the low 70s and with the strong sea breeze blowing in on us it was cold to sit out there. We never spent more than two hours down there on a given day and most days we were only out there for about an hour. This is why I don’t normally take beach vacations in New England.

One morning we also went on a seal cruise on the Monomoy Ferry. That was very cool in all senses of that word. We got to see a lot of seals and our guide was very informative. I learned a lot about seals, sharks, and the way the coastline changes in that area according to a specific pattern.

We were staying in Chatham, so a couple of days we went into the downtown area and walked around the shops on Main Street and let the kids play on the playground down there. It was a cute little area full of things I’m too poor to buy. I looked at one dress I liked and immediately put it right back on the rack when I saw the price tag reading $268.

We also went mini-golfing one afternoon. I am decidedly terrible at mini-golf, but I love it. I don’t do it nearly enough. It’s been years since the last time I went.

I also enjoyed our delicious seafood dinners with seafood from the fish market in town. We had some great salmon, halibut, shrimp, scallops, and of course lobster over the course of the four days I was there. I wish we had a really great place to buy seafood. I usually wind up getting it at Whole Foods for a billion dollars.

It was a lovely trip and much better than going to roast in Arizona to see my sister and family in June like I normally do.

Conferencing in Chicago

Last week I set out on a trip that took me to Chicago for a conference and to Cape Cod for a short vacation with my family. I’m going to write about Chicago in this post and Cape Cod in the next one. This year’s annual American Library Association conference was in Chicago. As I am sure I’ve probably mentioned here before, I hate Chicago for this particular conference. Chicago is a fine city, but its convention center is in a terrible location not near to anything. You have to rely on shuttle buses to get back and forth from hotels as it’s not walkable to anywhere. After my last experience doing this a few years ago I decided I was going to skip the conference this year, but then an opportunity for me to be on a panel at the conference came up so I wound up going anyway.

It turned out to be a lovely conference, and I’m glad I went despite my still existing hatred of the logistics of the convention center. Luckily this time everything I had to be at and most of the stuff I wanted to be at was either scheduled in the convention center or the hotel attached to it, so I was able to just go over there in the morning and stay through the afternoon instead of trying to maneuver back and forth between the convention center and hotels for meetings multiple times per day. I also learned from my last trip and made reservations at a hotel that made it more convenient to get back and forth on the shuttle buses than the one I stayed at last time while also still leaving me walkable to lots of things to do in the evenings.

I had a great time at the conference. It was productive in that my panel went well as did the other program one of my committees was involved in planning. I’m not sure that I wound up going to anything that was super enlightening to me, but I left feeling good about my profession and my place in it so I’ll count it as a win.

The weather while I was there was pretty good. Friday night I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to play with me. My hotel was very close to Millennium Park where they were having a free Stravinksy concert, so I grabbed some take out and went over to listen to it. It was a lovely evening sitting outside in some beautiful weather listening to music.

Saturday night I got to meet up with an old friend who I used to work at Barnes & Noble with in Baltimore, but who moved to Chicago a number of years ago. It was great to catch up with her face to face rather than just over Facebook for a change.

I got to do the same on Sunday with another friend who just left Baltimore six short weeks ago for a job after finishing her masters at Hopkins. When she told me she was moving to Chicago, I told her I was going to be there for a conference and we should get together while I was in town because she wasn’t getting rid of me that easily. It hadn’t been that long since I’d seen her, but I got find out how she’s faring in her new life and then be sad all over again that this person I like very much is now so far away from me.

Sunday afternoon I also got to finally put a real face to a Twitter pal over lunch. She is also a big music fan like I am and we’re always making each other jealous of the concerts we’re at from across the country. Of course she lives in Colorado so always gets to pull out the Red Rocks card. One day, Red Rocks, one day. It was fun to meet up with her and chat in real life for a change.

I wasn’t really looking forward to this conference at all, but it wound up being a good time and I’m really glad I wound up going.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Last night I finally got the chance to see Jason Isbell play a show in Maryland. This is the fifth time I’ve seen him live, but oddly the first time in the Baltimore area. The other times he has been at Merriweather he was opening for other bands, and I gladly would have gone just to see him open but I was out of town both times I’m aware of. I actually traveled home from Cape Cod on the day of this concert specifically so I could go to it. I’m very glad I did because it was a great show as always.

Normally when I go to Merriweather I just get lawn seats, but when I bought the tickets I thought I was going to have to drag my husband to go with me. I figured he would be marginally less grumpy about it if we had actual seats in the pavilion. Luckily I found a friend to go with me, so he was spared. The couple of other times I’ve sat inside of the pavilion I haven’t scored seats nearly as close. We were in the right center section about halfway up, so definitely the closest I’ve ever been to the stage at Merriweather. I appreciated actually getting to see the stage for real instead of through the screens for a change.

The Mountain Goats were the opening band. They are one of those bands that I feel like I should like, but I just don’t. I always hear people on NPR music going on about them, which generally means they should be in my wheelhouse, but I had never heard anything by them that inspired me to look into them more. I thought maybe seeing them play would ignite some sort of passion for me, but it didn’t. I didn’t really care for most of the songs they played. So I guess the Mountain Goats are just not for me.

Jason Isbell is, however, very much for me. I’ve been meaning to write up something about his most recent album, The Nashville Sound, which came out a couple of weeks ago. With all the traveling I’ve been doing I just didn’t get the chance. Since they played the majority of the songs from the album I’ll just roll my thoughts on it in here. That way everyone just has one post to ignore instead of two.

Jason Isbell’s last two albums were credited just to him, but the new album brings the return of his band The 400 Unit. It’s a much more rock driven album than Southeastern or Something More Than Free. Since they’re touring promoting The Nashville Sound obviously they focused on playing songs from it, making it a much more rock focused concert than some of the other shows I’ve seen.

Even with the move back to his more Southern rock roots of his Drive-by Truckers years the songs are still incredibly soulful and full of poignant lyrics that drill right into your heart. A good number of the songs on the new album seem very focused on our political times from “Cumberland Gap” and “Last of My Kind” looking at life in small towns and the way people there feel as the world changes around them to songs like “Hope the High Road” and “White Man’s World” that grapple with waking up in a world where people actually voted for Donald Trump to be president and wondering how that happened and coming to terms with white privilege as a white man. There’s also “Anxiety”, the song they opened the show with last night, which really has nothing to with politics but speaks very much to my anxious personality that is only be exacerbated by this political morass we’re living in.

Also from the new album they played “Something to Love”, which is one of the more folk country songs on the album as opposed to the more rock driven stuff. Also in the non-rock genre from that album was the first song of their encore, “If We Were Vampires”, which is the most heartbreakingly beautiful love song you’ll ever hear. It’s all about cherishing the one you love most of all because you know of the limited time you have with them on this earth. As someone who constantly tells my husband that he is not allowed to die first, the lines

“Maybe time running out is a gift
I’ll work hard ’til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn’t me who’s left behind”

kill me every time I hear them.

The rest of the show was a mix of songs off of Southeastern and Something More than Free as well as “Decoration Day” and “Never Gonna Change” from his time with the Drive-by Truckers, which he has played at every show I’ve been to so they seem to be standard in his set. “Cover Me Up” was beautiful as always, though I noticed that the cheers for the line “But I sobered up and I swore off that stuff forever this time” seemed much more muted than I’ve experienced in the past. I suspect he’s starting to gain more followers that aren’t as familiar with his backstory. I was also very happy that they played “The Life You Chose” because it’s my favorite song off the Something More than Free album and they didn’t play it either of the previous times I saw them after that album came out.

I saw Jason Isbell tweet earlier in the year that he was going to take a year off from playing festivals and just play venues where he could headline and do a real full set for his fans. I very much appreciate that decision. I am tired of the 8 billion music festivals that exist these days. Pretty much it seems like musical acts are caught up doing nothing but traveling from festival to festival for 6 months out of the year these days, so if you don’t happen to have a music festival near year or can’t/don’t want to pay to go to one then you’re out of luck to see anyone. Plus festival sets are always short. You’re lucky if you get a full hour. I very much love that I got see Jason Isbell play a full two hour set last night with a crowd of people who were there to specifically to see him.

Having that full two hours really did change the dynamic of the show from the previous times I’ve seen him. Two of the times were in fact short hour or less festival sets at the Newport Folk Festival. Last year he was supposed to headline the show I was seeing, but then they moved the show to a larger venue and added Chris Stapleton as the headliner. Technically I think they were supposed to be co-headlining, but it didn’t feel like it. It felt like Jason Isbell was the second opening act for Chris Stapleton, who the crowd was definitely there to see. I did see him headline at the 9:30 Club when touring for Southeastern, so he did have a slightly longer set there but was also sick at the time and probably at that point figuring out what his stage personality was going to be like as someone performing newly sober. He definitely did not do a whole lot of between songs talking during that performance either.

Last night with the full two hours it seemed like he felt like had room to breathe. He joked around a lot, he told stories to intro songs, he repeatedly expressed how grateful he was to be there and how much he doesn’t take it for granted. He also introduced every member of the band no less than three times to make sure we knew it’s not just about him up there, but every member of the 400 Unit too. I very much love how much you can tell that he just loves playing music and is appreciating every second of where he is right now. And also the best moment of the night when he started talking to his almost two year old daughter, Mercy, who I then realized was standing just off stage for part of the show. Isbell is married to Amanda Shires who sometimes plays fiddle with the 400 Unit and when they are touring together they bring their daughter along. It was a very sweet moment as was watching him pick up his wife and carry her off stage in giddy happiness at the end of the night after they closed out with a lit performance of The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post”. It was a wonderful show as always.