by Julian Spivey
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers brought their 40th Anniversary tour to North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena on Sunday, April 23 and showed the state of Arkansas would masters of rock & roll look like.
The show began at 7:30 p.m. with a terrific opening set by another rock & roll legend Joe Walsh who thrilled the crowd with performances throughout his career as a solo act, member of the Eagles and member of the James Gang. The most touching moment of Walsh’s set was when he dedicated the Eagles’ classic “Take It to the Limit” to his “brother and bandmate” Glenn Frey, who died last year. Walsh would also treat the crowd to the epic one-two-three punch of finishing his set with “Funk #49,” “Life’s Been Good” and “Rocky Mountain Way” showing off his epic guitar skills throughout.
Petty & the Heartbreakers made their first appearance at Verizon Arena since 2012 with a well-oiled performance being the group’s third show in four nights and second in back-to-back days.
The group uniquely opened the set with “Rockin’ Around (With You),” which had you purchased their self-titled debut album 40 years ago would’ve been the first ever song you heard from them. From there on out the group mixed greatest hits and album cuts splendidly throughout their two-hour set.
While many fans may not have known the set opener, they sure as hell got up on their feet and grooved to the second performance of the might “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” before Petty & the Heartbreakers launched into a terrific version of “You Don’t Know How It Feels” – hitting the crowd with a great back-to-back highlight of the group’s early ‘90s years.
Petty told the crowd on Sunday night that he hoped to hit on a bit of each era of the group’s work and showed he meant it with a performance of “Forgotten Man,” off the group’s most recent album Hypnotic Eye in 2014.
Petty and the band gave the crowd a good bit of the Wildflowers album, which seems to be one of Petty’s favorites based on interviews I’ve read and heard and he would like to tour the 1994 album from start-to-finish on the band’s next tour. The group performed the title track, “Time to Move On” and an excellently elongated version of “It’s Good to Be King” from that album. “It’s Good to Be King” showed off how truly underrated guitarist Mike Campbell is; anytime you see a list of “greatest rock guitarists” he should be on it.
A few of my favorite performances of the night were not necessarily greatest hits, but underrated Petty songs in “Walls,” “Yer So Bad” and the hard, bluesy-rock sound of “I Should Have Known,” coming off the band’s blues-infused 2010 album Mojo.
Petty covered the late ‘80s Full Moon Fever portion of his career with back-to-back performances of “I Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin’,” which were obviously crowd favorites with the arena singing along loudly in unison. They would later sing along again to “Learning to Fly,” “Refugee” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” which the band would end their set with.
The band was serenaded with uproarious applause before returning to the stage a few minutes later with a terrific and hard-charging encore of “You Wreck Me” and “American Girl,” my personal favorite Petty track and the song that truly kicked their career off 40 years ago. It was a magical way to end an amazing night of wonderful rock music.
by Julian Spivey
Hayes Carll and Band of Heathens put on one helluva show at The Rev Room in Little Rock on Thursday, April 20. The mix of Carll and Band of Heathens previously put on a great show at The Rev Room in December of 2014.
Band of Heathens, hot off the release of their sixth studio release Duende, showed The Rev Room crowd what great American roots-rock-country sounds like. Band of Heathens performed five of the new album’s 10 tracks during their 10-song set on Thursday night, including the awesome sounding “All I’m Asking” and “Green Green of California,” with band member Gordy Quist wishing the crowd a happy 4/20 day, saying the only thing he’s seen in this country that brings everybody together like music is marijuana. Ed Jurdi added the nice “Last Minute Man” to the set off Duende.
Band of Heathens also exited the crowd with previous albums cuts like “Jackson Station” and crowd-pleaser “Hurricane,” which I remember perfectly from seeing them in 2014. It was the performance that made Band of Heathens stick in my head all these years. The group would finish their opening set up with the rocking “Trouble Came Early” off their recent album.
The great thing about Band of Heathens touring with Hayes Carll is that after they’re finished with their opening set they return to the stage as Carll’s backing band, making for one terrific combination of musical talent.
Carll opened his set with “Grand Parade” off his 2011 album KMAG YOYO (& other American Stories), before launching into the softer sound of his newest release Lovers and Leavers from last year with the terrific “The Love That We Need” and “My Friends.” Carll would also perform the new tracks “Sake of the Song” and “Jealous Moon” later in his set, with the faithful crowd singing along. Some thought that fans of Carll wouldn’t adapt to the softer singer-songwriter sound of his most recent album, but the reaction to these performances proved otherwise.
Carll also debuted a couple of new songs on Thursday night, which he said he’s selling as singles on Patreon, releasing one a month. These songs were “Things You Don’t Wanna Know” and “Different Boats,” which he said would be available on Patreon soon. It’s an interesting way of releasing new music, though not one I particularly like.
As many who follow Carll know he has ties to Central Arkansas, as he attended college at Hendrix University in Conway, Ark. about 30 miles north of Little Rock. For this reason, his Rev Room shows always draw a healthy crowd and he seems to enjoy performing in an area he once called home for a few years. He performed “Little Rock” and “Faulkner Street,” about a place he used to live at in Conway, much to the crowd’s delight.
Carll’s raucous, upbeat tunes are always the ones that really get the Rev Room crowd grooving and there certainly wasn’t any shortage of these during the evening, even with some of the softer tunes from Lovers and Leavers in the set. Among the foot stompers were “I Got a Gig,” “KMAG YOYO,” “Hard Out Here” and the set ender “Bad Liver and Broken Heart.”
I think my four favorite performance of this terrific show were all played consecutively. Carll performed “Beaumont” and “Girl Downtown,” both from his excellent 2008 release Trouble In Mind, solo with just his guitar as Band of Heathens took a short break backing him. Carll must have felt particularly good on this night, because I could see his setlist from where I stood and “Girl Downtown” was ad-libbed. Band of Heathens then rejoined the stage for rip-roaring performances of “Drunken Poet’s Dream” and “Bible on the Dash,” a song he co-wrote with Canadian country singer Corb Lund, which appears on Lund’s terrific 2012 album Cabin Fever as a duet.
Carll’s fantastic encored included “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed So Long,” from his 2005 sophomore album Little Rock, and the hard-charging “Stomp and Holler,” from 2011’s KMAG YOYO, which was a perfect way to end his rocking show and includes one of my favorite lyrics: “I’m like James Brown/only white and taller/and all I wanna do is stomp and holler.”
by Julian Spivey
CMT aired “Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings” on Friday, April 7. The two-hour concert special was taped live on July 6, 2015 at Austin, Texas’ The Moody Theater and featured some of the country music genre’s finest artists paying tribute to the legendary Jennings, who died in 2002 at age 64.
It’s somewhat surprising it took this great night of Waylon Jennings music almost two years to see its television broadcast and CD/DVD release, which also happened on April 7. I hope the Merle Haggard tribute that took place last week, also taped for possible future television broadcast, doesn’t take that long to be seen.
Waylon Jennings is one of the most important, influential and greatest performers in the history of country music and no doubt had numerous hits to choose from when the artists performed on his tribute. It was surprising that some deeper cuts from his discography were chosen like his son Shooter Jennings performing “Whistlers and Jugglers,” Sturgill Simpson choosing “Memories of You & I” and Willie Nelson’s selection of “’Til I Gain Control Again.” All were good selections and great performances, but it was interesting not to have Waylon classics like “Good Hearted Woman” or “Good Ol’ Boys” performed during the special.
The two-hour televised special began with a terrific performance of “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” by Chris Stapleton and his wife Morgane. The song, written by Rodney Crowell, is one of Jennings’ rowdier hits and one of my favorites, though I do prefer Crowell’s original slightly.
Just about every performance throughout the entire special was a highlight, so ranking performances would be a hard task and waste of time. Some of my favorites performances though included Texas country legend Robert Earl Keen’s take on my personal favorite Waylon song “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way,” the beautiful, angelic takes on “Dreaming My Dreams with You” and “The Wurlitzer Prize” by Alison Krauss and Kacey Musgraves respectively and Eric Church’s perfect choice of “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean.”
One of my favorite things about the televised tribute to Waylon Jennings is it allowed actual country music to appear on television, especially on a network that was once dedicated solely to country music. Seeing artists like Keen, Simpson, Ryan Bingham and Lee Ann Womack on TV really put a smile on my face. I can’t recall the last time I saw that much real country music on television – it sure hasn’t been any of the recent country music award shows (even though there’s at least four annually).
Other great selections from the tribute included Womack’s “Ride Me Down Easy,” Kris Kristofferson’s “I Do Believe,” Bingham’s “Rainy Day Woman” and the emotional “Mona,” performed by Waylon’s widow Jessi Colter, who wrote the song specifically for him.
One of the more interesting performances of the special was Toby Keith doing “Honky Tonk Heroes.” Keith is an artist that has sort of lost his way in the last decade or so, but the performance showed what kind of talent he is when performing good, well-written music.
Keith would also duet with Willie Nelson on the classic “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys.” Stapleton would join Nelson for a nice cover of “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” Another interesting performance was the sort of Highwaymen reunion with Nelson and Kristofferson joined by Jamey Johnson and Shooter Jennings (naturally doing his daddy’s verse) on “The Highwayman.” The special made me really want to see a modern-day Highwaymen-esque supergroup featuring Simpson, Stapleton, Johnson and Jason Isbell (who wasn’t a part of the Waylon tribute).
“Outlaw: Celebrating the Music of Waylon Jennings” ended with an all-star singalong, as these specials and tributes so often do with everybody taking turns singing “Luckenbach, Texas.”
The CD/DVD of this great event can be purchased on Amazon.