The '80's were a time of a musical tsunami. When MTV sprang forth an entire world of music we may have never really heard arrived to us on a nice little "platter." We saw it all, new genres broke free from their little hiding places and bands became more than just sounds, they were out in the daylight of the world. Some of the artists we did know brought to us a spectacular point where those images were ever etched into our minds, some for the good and some for the bad. So?
I was born and raised in a small town, and well after I went to college did we actually get MTV but the good news for me was that my cousins that lived 25 miles away in an even smaller town than I did. When I would visit them over the summer I watched MTV all I could actually and as the '80's progressed NBC brought out "Friday Night Videos" so I was able to put faces with music more often.
As I think back to 1985 I remember some great times, in August of that year I became a senior at Galena High and I remember some really tough, really sad times too. But what I remember about music isn't merely confined to any of that, I remember the videos of my musical youth (not the band "Musical Youth", MY youth). I remember one video in fact that still creeps me out to this day, "Don't Come Around Here No More" by the incomparable Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. That entire video, with its "Alice in Wonderland" theme, giant mushrooms, odd imagery and the cake cutting scene were a tad on the freaky side. With hindsight I look back now and I realize how brilliant that video was. It was released twenty-nine years ago and I still remember it, all of it.
On June 6th, 2014 my son graduated from middle school, twenty-eight years to the day that I did high school and in some strange way it all feels connected to me some how. You see with all of the memories I had and those I made that day with my son it seems almost fitting that the next day, June 7th, that I would relive a little more of the past. You see on June 7th I attended a concert at the Mississippi Moon Bar located in Dubuque, Iowa for the band "Free Fallin'." Free Fallin' is a Tom Petty tribute band, an excellent band at that. The members of this band are more than just a "cover band" no they are far better than that.
If you have read any of the things I have written before cover bands for the most part are the bane of live music. I firmly believe that and yes there are some exceptions but for the vast majority they aren't all of that and a bag of chips. Tribute bands are harder to pull off if not for the simple reason that a tribute band MUST perform like the artists they are portraying. I have seen some terrible tribute bands but for the most part they are worth the price of admission. Free Fallin' is a band that I have seen several times and written about too for that matter if not for the simple reason they are that good.
When I attended their show June 7th, the band was to perform two sets in doing so they would perform music other than just Petty but that still doesn't constitute them as a cover band. Why? Its simple really, even major acts do covers of other people's music. As an example I saw Motley Crue earlier this summer and they did a cover of "Anarchy for the UK" a classic Sex Pistols song yet that doesn't make them a cover band. To complicate matters even further would be the fact that Petty wasn't always just a solo act, remember the "Traveling Wilburys"? To perform as the Wilburys the band would have to perform as Petty, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison. That sounds simple doesn't it?
Although it would be possible to pull off by singing like Dylan and Lynne (two very distinct voices) it would make little sense to attempt it. Rather than doing that, Free Fallin' sang it as if it was their own version of the song, just like every major act does when it performs the music of someone else. The version that Free Fallin' did of "Handle With Care" and "End of the Line" were masterful. Each Wilbury was represented in Free Fallin' fashion and I loved both songs.
What I like about this band is the complexity that they tackle every time they perform. Musically the band is spot on with their performances, it makes the music sound like its their own. That leads us back to the video for "Don't Come Around Here No More" and the fact that Free Fallin' took the song on. I mentioned earlier that the video was a bit freaky, no it was really freaky BUT Free Fallin' had the chance to do with that song the same thing they do with every song, just perform it. This becomes an important part of the show because they didn't "just perform it," rather they made a stage production of it. I have never seen Tom Petty live (and if you're there Tom, call me) so I really don't know how he addresses the song live but for Free Fallin' I can tell you they had a couple of props to help.
I can tell you there was a chest, some lights, a top hat and then the performance and it was all brilliant. I LOVED this part of the show, yes the video is still creepy but the production of Free Fallin' was anything but. Every Petty song this band tackles is exceptionally well done and what I find incredible is the fact that they get better every song. Take the closing song of "American Girl", one of the best Petty songs he has in his catalog, the band included women from the crowd, a BUNCH of women and although a distraction is possible because of that I would think that the bigger problem would be the fact that playing the song could get muddled because of non-musicians filling the stage. It didn't, it went off great and the performance was as well.
When I first saw the video for "Don't Come Around Here No More" in 1985 I thought of it as a dark, creepy, brooding video that made the music of a brilliant mind almost twisted. Certainly the man that wrote the song and came up with the idea for the video had an idea in mind that might trigger memories of both the song and the video. Nearly thirty years after I first saw that video I remember it like it was yesterday but more importantly I remember the brilliance of the artist himself. Free Fallin' has taken an unenviable task of trying to take the body of work from the same man and represent in such a way that it makes their fans happy. In a way its the same idea that Petty had when he made that video. Free Fallin' is the premier Tom Petty tribute band hands down, they themselves are artists. Like Petty they make others happy with their work so take the time and see Free Fallin' live. Maybe you too will experience the magic that comes out of that chest.