Live: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers bring a rebel spirit


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Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers band tie in last week’s firing of longtime L.A. DJ Jim Ladd as part of the anti-indie pressures in radio today.

How’s this for a screenplay idea?

Rock superstar with a soft spot for underdogs swoops in to headline a benefit for an idealistically ambitious but woefully underfunded public radio station in the same week that corporate overlords at a bottom-line-conscious media conglomerate fire a beloved veteran DJ at a crosstown station -- the same iconoclastic DJ who had championed the rock star when he was a nobody.


It sounds laughable even by Hollywood standards if things hadn’t played out exactly that way this past week leading to Saturday and Sunday’s fundraising shows Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played for tiny Cal State Northridge-based station KCSN-FM (88.5).

PHOTOS: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

After Atlanta-based Cumulus Media acquired Citadel Broadcasting and laid off dozens of Citadel employees last week, including L.A. rock radio stalwart Jim Ladd from his longtime post at KLOS-FM (95.5), both Petty and KCSN program director Sky Daniels pounced on the news Saturday as further evidence of why fans need to support a rock radio station with an independent voice.

‘I should say something about why were doing this,’ the 61-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member told onlookers who had pledged support to KCSN for the chance to see him and the Heartbreakers in the university’s intimate 500-seat theater. ‘Jim Ladd was fired this week,’ Petty said, referring to the man he has cited as an inspiration for the title character in his 2002 concept album ‘The Last DJ’ and who was slated to appear at Petty’s second KCSN benefit Sunday night at the campus’ Performing Arts Theater. ‘What is so tragic about what is going on is that we’re seeing acts breeded by record companies to go on game shows and win.

‘We’re all for KCSN,’ he said. ‘We think people can understand a lot of different kinds of music. When we started out, people in radio took a chance on this band, and I’ll tell you what -- we would not have won on ‘American Idol.’’

Fans cheered, and in a segue that couldn’t have been crafted any more effectively on the silver screen, Petty and the band revved up his 1989 solo hit ‘I Won’t Back Down,’ in which he sings: ‘Gonna stand my ground, won’t be turned around/ And I’ll keep this world from dragging me down,’ lyrics drawn from his own battles over the decades with forces that would squelch creativity in the pursuit of profit. For the most part, however, Petty and his colleagues chose to celebrate rather than commiserate, taking the opportunity to dig into their estimable song catalog.


‘We’re going to play a lot of deep tracks tonight,’ Petty said early on and made good on his word, pulling up songs including ‘Fooled Again (I Don’t Like It),’ ‘Have Love Will Travel,’ ‘Angel Dream,’ ‘Good Enough,’ ‘I Should Have Known It’ and ‘To Find a Friend’ to supplement the smattering of cornerstone numbers such as ‘Listen to Her Heart,’ ‘Refugee’ and ‘Running Down a Dream.’

‘We’ve never played this one [live],’ he said before taking a swing at ‘Lover’s Touch,’ from 2010’s blues-rooted ‘Mojo’ album, which he dipped into for several numbers. Those allowed the Heartbreakers to stretch out, both referencing and transcending their foundation as a first-rate bar band. Through the evening they acknowledged primary influences such as Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry while filtering their heroes’ songs through their own fertile musical imaginations.

Jakob Dylan also came aboard to, in the words of one of the songs from his 35-minute set that preceded Petty’s, ‘Lend a Hand.’ He was backed for the evening by the three members of young L.A. rock group Everest, who supplied tight and powerful support on three songs from last year’s ‘Women + Country’ album and a handful of others from his Wallflowers and solo outings. ‘You’d like to help everybody, but obviously you can’t. But since this is my own backyard and I like radio, I’m happy to be here.’

Singer-songwriter Lissie opened the show with a set of soul-infused rock that made her seem ideally positioned to capitalize on whatever fallout Adele-mania may have for sandy-voiced singers who can reach to the gut. Lissie exhibited an impressive stylistic range that runs from foot-stomping rock to emotion-drenched gospel -- just the kind of artist Hollywood might cook up for an upstart radio station to get behind.


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-- Randy Lewis