I recently attended a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert with nine of my closest friends, including my wife. The band was great, the evening was great, but…
My perspective on these things has changed.
The concert took place at Red Rocks Amphitheater, an amazing outdoor facility in the foothills just west of Denver. The venue is a natural amphitheater formed by gigantic red rocks (hence the name) that jut from the earth like gigantic orange nacho chips stuck in sandy bean dip. The stage and seating areas have some history as well — they were constructed by the CCC in the 1930s. All told, it’s one of the best places in the U.S. to see a rock concert on a clear night.
Our group consisted of four couples, all in their thirties or early forties, plus two teenage boys. We immediately noticed that our troupe was outrageously non-conformist. For instance, rather than sporting the myriad of piercings, tattoos, and chain-link necklaces that the lemming-like crowd favored, my buddy Tim and I made a bold statement with our plaid shirts. In fact, that we wore shirts at all was a choice that few other males were willing to make; in a hopeless show of obedience with the group mind, one male after another stripped to the waist to display anemic white suburban-bred bodies with identical West African tribal tattoo markings.
I believe the crowd was in awe of us and kept their distance out of respect or perhaps fear. Instead of lighting up the obligatory marijuana cigarette, my wife and I opened our small cooler and had a mind-expanding meal of Subway sandwiches and cold cans of soda. The crowd let out a collective gasp as I crunched into the Kosher deli pickle that I had neatly stored in a small Zip-Loc bag. One young man tentatively asked me if I had “a pipe,” to which I replied that I did not, but I had some of those long, cigar-shaped pretzels and I was willing to share. He declined, sadly.
At Red Rocks, the concept of seating is reduced to its bare minimum: long wooden planks serve as benches at the edge of wide concrete steps. Therefore, most people bring old blankets to soften the impact of the nearly-petrified wood, as well as protecting delicate hineys from splinters. My wife and I spread a thick, old picnic blanket on the bench, folded four times to provide maximum softness.
Several drunk, giggly girls of approximate college age sat behind us. When one of them spilled an entire 16-ounce cup of beer, partially soaking our picnic blanket, we shrugged and rearranged the blanket to avoid wetting our behinds. When the same girl spilled another beer, five minutes later, soaking one of the few remaining dry sections of our blanket, I responded harshly by telling her to, “Watch what the hell you’re doing.”
This elicited a response from an aging hippie near us to “lighten up.” My wife and I did not feel like lightening up at this point, but we did take satisfaction in making fun of the fact that the aging hippie was only dimly identifiable as a woman, having long since abandoned any attempt at femininity. My wife referred to this creature as “he/she.” This he/she continued to frown at me for the rest of the evening, apparently forgetting his/her own advice about “lightening up.”
The concert began, with “The Wallflowers” opening. The Wallflowers are a respectively-talented band that had a string of hits back in the mid 90s, and likely would have faded into obscurity by now except that Jakob Dylan, son of Bob, is the lead singer. Jakob is a more musically-gifted singer than his father, but isn’t much better-looking and doesn’t exhibit an exuberant stage presence to show his thankfulness at not having to service pop machines for a living. Not that there’s anything wrong with servicing pop machines; if you’re someone who keeps my all-important cans of diet Coke cold and ready to be dispensed at a moment’s notice, I thank you.
In any event, Jakob Dylan stood in front of his band, singing his string of hit songs, looking dour and serious. This did not prevent the hordes of scantily-dressed young women, only a small portion of which actually deserved to be scantily clad, from screaming and whistling and shouting, “Woo!” throughout The Wallflowers’ 45-minute set. At one point, a young woman actually lobbed a white #10 envelope to Jakob, presumably filled with directions to her apartment and descriptions of the acts she might be willing to perform should he actually show up. Jakob attempted to read it while singing, then tossed it aside on the drum riser, where it most likely sat until being retrieved by a desperate roadie named Vic later that evening.
After The Wallflowers finished, my wife pointed out a young woman sitting several rows in front of us wearing the latest low-cut mauve pleather jeans. This is of the type popularized recently by Brittany Spears and Christina Agu-whatever-the-hell-her-name-is. Unfortunately, her stylishness was mitigated by the fact that her purple thong panties were NOT low-cut, and indeed, came right up out of the back of her pants in all their dotted purple mesh glory. My wife observed that women are finally catching up to men, who have been wearing their undergarments out of the top of their pants for years now. My wife said she actually prefers women exposing their underwear out of the top of their pants, since women generally have “prettier” underwear.
My wife is not normally this witty, but she was “on” this evening.
Soon the lights went dark and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers appeared on stage, playing brilliant versions their many hit songs. Tom Petty won major points from us by actually smiling at the audience and his band, as if he actually enjoys his job of being simultaneously adored by tens of thousands of people. His light blond hair is more gray than blond these days, and he’s no longer stick thin, but he still looked cool in a sparkly coat that could only be worn by a rock star or a mother-of-the-bride. A tuft of beard made him resemble a very hip Colonel Sanders — the old patron saint of Kentucky Fried Chicken before it was neutered to the initials “KFC” in the hopes that people might forget that fried chicken is actually fried.
After a half hour or so of great music, my wife and I climbed the very steep, non-”Americans-with-Disabilities-Act”-compliant steps to the top of Red Rocks. From the top, you can see the twinkling nighttime lights of Denver spread out behind the stage. It was a special night. We kissed. We held hands. We bought an enormous lemonade for six dollars. And as we made our way back to our seats, we carefully avoided the young couple who were also sharing a special moment as she barfed and he held her hair out of her barf stream.
Tom Petty played for two nearly flawless hours before taking a short break. In fact, the only downer of the evening came as he started playing “Free Falling” for an encore. For some reason, the band chose to release great quantities of poison gas into the sky, emitted from deadly devices known as “fog machines.” My eyes watered and began to sting. As I blinked, I wondered why anyone would choose to inflict this hideous toxic cloud upon such an enthusiastic and compliant audience – an audience that had paid $45 per ticket plus another $11.50 per ticket in dubious service charges from the Servants of Hell at Ticketmaster, just for the privilege of having our lungs burned with mustard gas.
It was a memorable evening. Old people smoked pot, tall people stood on benches right in front of us, and the “he/she” woman of near-indeterminate gender whistled so loudly in my left ear that I went temporarily deaf. In the end, we gathered up our beer-soaked blanket and drove home, humming Tom Petty songs all the way.