On the anniversary of his death, looking back on Tom Petty's last night in Des Moines
Rock superstar Tom Petty has died at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles, a day after he suffered cardiac arrest at his home in Malibu, California. (Oct. 3) AP
Editor’s note: This story by Register reporter Matthew Leimkuehler originally ran Oct. 3, 2017.
I don’t sleep after good shows.
Almost weekly, someone asks me: “How do you know what to say in a review? What are you looking for?”
I shrug and work my way through a half-hearted answer about musicianship and the show’s spectacle and all of the things I think should be the answer to the question.
But, really, I just know.
By the time that last note rings out I know if I’ll be going home and settling in for eight hours of sleep or if I’ll be staring at the ceiling, reliving in my mind every motion of the show. It’s because, as one Iowan once said to me, good art should keep your mind working long after the performance ends.
Tom Petty, who died Oct. 2, 2017 of cardiac arrest, played his last show in Des Moines at Wells Fargo Arena on June 5, 2017, part of the Heartbreakers' 40th anniversary tour. I didn’t fall asleep that night until the sun came up.
The stakes couldn't be higher: The band that opened Wells Fargo Arena in 2005 makes its long-awaited return. A total 14,000 tickets sold, nearly twice as many as before. And, as Petty teased to Rolling Stone, it was likely to be his last American tour.
But, man, he came ready to change lives. “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” “Free Fallin’.” “American Girl.” “Refugee.” “Learning To Fly.” They were all there. It’s cliché, but you really do forget how many hits he has until you watch him play every single one for a dedicated 14,876.
And it wasn’t just that this famous musician showed up to an arena and played his famous songs for people who love his music. That happens every night in rooms around the world. It was that for every ounce of energy the crowd threw toward the stage, he and his band shot back tenfold.
It was a 30-something year-old father holding an infant son up to catch a glimpse of the musician dad was raised on. It was a 60-something year-old mother sharing the soundtrack of a generation with her grown daughter. As any great rock ‘n’ roll show should, it welcomed everyone who welcomed it.
Petty said it best after the show’s opening song: “We got a 100 percent rock ‘n’ roll show for ya tonight. That’s right. No artificial sweetener. 100 percent natural rock ‘n’ roll and mojo.”
Read the full review: Tom Petty brings a night of ‘100 percent rock ‘n’ roll’ hits to Des Moines
In a city that musicians could treat as a fuel stop on the way to somewhere more idolized, for those two hours and 19 songs he spent here, Petty treated Des Moines like home.
He paused before “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” the last song before what would be his last encore in a city that adores him so.
“You’ve given us such a gift here tonight,” he said.
No, sir. You were the one giving a gift.
A Missourian by birth and Iowan by choice, Matthew Leimkuehler reports on music, arts and nightlife for The Des Moines Register. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, via Twitter @mattleimkuehler or by phone at 515-284-8358.