By Steve Newton
As far as rock concerts go, I’ve been a very lucky mofo. My 30-some-odd years as a music journalist have provided me with scores of awesome memories. But the one that stands out as tops is seeing Bob Dylan with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, California, on June 13, 1986.
It wasn’t just the concert itself, but the circumstances involved. Back in ’86 the music industry was not on its deathbed. There was money floatin’ around. And the promoters of the Dylan/Petty Tour, Westwood One, were willing to spend some in order to get advance press that might help sell tickets for the tour’s upcoming stop at Vancouver’s B.C. Place Stadium.
They flew me out to Berkeley and put me up in a fancy hotel for the night, but the coolest thing was that it included unlimited limo service. So before the show I hopped in the fancy wheels, said “Nearest liquor store please!”, and proceeded to live the high life.
To me, that merely meant scoring a bottle of Jack Daniels and sipping it while cruising around Berkeley. And when it approached concert time, the limo got waved through the barriers and drove directly backstage. Call me a hick from Chilliwack, but I ain’t never drove directly backstage before.
While I happily hung out in my JD-infused stupor, I remember seeing Dylan walking down a hallway just a few yards away, and giving somebody he ran into a big hug and a big smile. He was clearly in a great mood. I could relate.
What I remember most about the show was being able to go wherever the hell I wanted with that pink and purple backstage pass, so for the longest time I stood right at the side of the stage and watched Dylan rock out amazingly with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. God damn were they impressive.
When I got back to Vancouver I wrote the review below, which I’ll admit is pretty lame. But it was 30 years ago, so who cares? I still say it was the greatest concert experience of my life.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JUNE 20, 1986
It was a gorgeous, sunny day in Berkeley, California. Outside the Greek Theatre, on this mid-June Saturday, scores of music lovers were lazing on the grassy knolls, or strolling to the end of the long queue that would eventually put them in the presence of the legendary Bob Dylan.
Long-haired, bead-heavy hippies, relics of the Summer of Love, mingled with the upwardly-mobile disciples of Jerry Rubin. The crowd was more youthful than is usual at Dylan shows, mainly due to co-headliners Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, an act with more contemporary roots.
Once inside the 7,000-seat outdoor amphitheatre, fans climbed to their chosen spots and anchored themselves for the night. The Greek Theatre is a concrete, semi-circular Roman coliseum-type structure, and in no time the grey cement was a flurry of bright colours. From backstage, it was just one huge, high wall of people, and for the next two hours that wall was alive with fans dancing and waving. After six years, Dylan was on the road again. (His tour comes to B.C. Place August 1).
Although he is homing in on the 50-year mark, Dylan is rocking harder than he ever has before, and a lot of it has to do with his backup band. Apart from the few tunes that he did alone, Dylan always had the heady musicianship of the Heartbreakers–guitarist Mike Campbell, drummer Stan Lynch, bassist Howie Epstein, and keyboardist Benmont Tench–driving him on with hearty rhythms and slick leads. Petty played guitar and sang alongside Dylan on many of the tunes, looking like a young apprentice egging on the old pro. Between the two of them, they managed to give new life to songs that must have been performed a thousand times before.
The concert kicked off with three songs from Dylan’s Empire Burlesque album, along with “Shot of Love” and his ’60s classic “Masters of War”.
“This is one of my favourite singers,” Dylan said upon introducing Petty. Then he headed backstage and Tom and the boys played three of their best-loved songs, “Fooled Again”, “The Waiting”, and “Breakdown”. The latter tune elicited a huge response from the crowd, and a large number of Petty fans sang along on the chorus. The Heartbreakers then left the stage and Dylan took over with an acoustic guitar and a set that included “Hard Rain”, “To Ramona”, and “Just Like a Woman”. He didn’t spend a lot of time introducing the songs, or chatting up the crowd. It was one song after another, and the performance just kept getting better.
The Heartbreakers came back to join Dylan on “Lonesome Town”, and “Ballad of the Thin Man”, during which Bob got to play guitar hero a bit with some raunchy lead licks. He left the stage again and the Heartbreakers rocked out on the Byrds’ “So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star”, their hit “Refugee”, and “Bye Bye Johnny B. Goode”.
Dylan came back sporting a black muscle shirt and led the band in sinewy versions of last year’s “Seeing the Real You at Last” and “I and I”, a track from his ’83 album Infidels. Then he slipped a little further back in time for a few songs, including “Like a Rolling Stone”. Dylan shared the lead vocals with Petty on those and “Rainy Day Women” before shuffling offstage to a healthy volley of cheers and screams.
Before long, Bob and Tom were back, giving the older Dylan fans what they came for with killer versions of “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Unchain My Heart”, “Rock ‘Em Dead”, and the grand finale, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”.