Johnny Depp, some Strokes and more pay tribute to Tom Petty
I've been arguing for years that, for all his fame, Tom Petty is still the most underrated of all the great classic rock songwriters. There's scarcely anyone who compares when you think about longevity and relevance, not to mention the sheer number of hits he delivered, constantly, throughout the late '70s, '80s and '90s.
So it was heartening to see this theory backed up at L.A.'s first Petty Fest, a Jameson-sponsored charity ramble that's part fundraiser, part open-mic nigh, part shambolic celebration of the best of the master's catalog.
Rolling Stone's Austin Scaggs – who must have many of the night's slew of special guests on speed-dial – and guitarist Alex Levy led a crack group (dubbed the Cabin Down Below Band, after the Wildflowers track) through songs that wove through Petty's repertoire. Proceeds from the gig, as well as a replay Thursday, are earmarked for the musician-friendly Sweet Relief fund and towards recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Many of the sit-ins offered their throaty best reinterpretations of Petty's wail, including out-there participants like comedian Sarah Silverman, who clearly loved taking lead on "Don't Come Around Here No More," and usually silly Har Mar Superstar, who busted out a surprisingly straightforward "Don't Do Me Like That" at the top of the night before returning for a duet on "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" with the gorgeous Nicole Atkins.
Sidemen, frontmen and various rock rabble all made their way to the stage throughout the evening. Guns N' Roses drummer Matt Sorum played on "I Won't Back Down," then stuck around for "Refugee," which found him collaborating with onetime GNR guitarist Gilby Clarke. Guster's Ryan Miller played a lullaby-like version of "Wildflowers," from Petty's solo album of the same name. Butch Walker slammed his way through "Breakdown," yelping with passion on each chorus.
But the big guns were held until the end, when actor Johnny Depp (looking increasingly like a young Keith Richards) shambled out to play guitar surprisingly well on the last third of the night's 25 songs. Each tune pulled up more and more star participants: the Black Keys' Patrick Carney blasted through at least two cuts on drums; Kings of Leon's Jared Followill bass-boomed his way through "Here Comes My Girl"; a revolving-door cast of Strokes members turned up on "I Need to Know," "Honey Bee" and "American Girl."
The oddest sight of the night, however, was pop singer Ke$ha, with Depp next to her and the Keys' Carney banging skins, tearing through an audience singalong on the weed-tacular "Mary Jane's Last Dance." It was a come-together moment, and it proved yet again that Petty's legacy is intact and as influential as ever.
Petty Fest continues Nov. 15 at El Rey Theatre, 5515 Wilshire Blvd., in the Miracle Mile stretch of L.A., $20.