Petty Theft, from left, Monroe Grisman, Adam Berkowitz, Dan Durkin, Django Bayless, Michael Papenburg and Mike Emerson.

More than just a pale imitation: Petty Theft worth the cover

Published: Friday, May. 10, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 10TICKET

Tribute bands routinely pack clubs these days, but few groups actually capture the vibe and spirit of the musicians they imitate.

Petty Theft, which covers the music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, is one of the exceptions.

The band features a veritable who's who of Bay Area talent and has built its fan base the old-fashioned way: by earning it through their near-perfect interpretations of Petty's releases.

Dan Durkin supplies lead vocals, guitar and harmonica; Michael Papenburg provides rhythm guitar; Django Bayless lays down the bass; Adam "Bagel" Berkowitz plays drums; Mike Emerson plays keyboards; and Monroe Grisman handles lead guitar duties.

While the various members have spent years either touring nationally or regionally in their own original and cover bands, their attention is focused on Petty Theft.

The Bee caught up with guitarist Grisman to talk about what will be a repeat Sacramento performance for the band.

You're playing Harlow's this time around, a bigger venue than for your last show. It would seem your fan base is growing. Thoughts?

I've never been to Harlow's. A much earlier incarnation played there with two of the founding members. Technically, this show is not Petty Theft's debut there, but it is the first time for this entire band.

Our last Sacramento show was at Blue Lamp. They gave us our start here and we dig their club. It's simply time to graduate to a bigger venue.

Tribute bands come and go in the Bay Area. How has Petty Theft made this work?

We're attracting people that just dig our band, not necessarily Tom Petty. We're not about wearing the same costumes or playing the same amps. We are all seasoned players, and I think people really pick up on our energy. My motto is as long as I'm having a good time, I'll keep playing.

Have you had any special shows that featured an entire album?

Last year we did a show at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma and did a tribute to the "Damn the Torpedoes" album. We're going to try and make that a tradition. Even though most shows are chock-full of classic hits, we like to add the deeper cuts for the real hardcore TP fans.

It must be hard choosing what songs to play since Petty has such a huge catalog.

At our summer festival shows we are mostly sticking to the hits. At head- lining shows where we know we have fans of the band, we will play some obscurities. We sold out the Sweetwater Music Hall (in Mill Valley) recently and we ended up playing around 30 songs since we played two sets. Of course, we always make sure we do different songs each time we play a venue.

Petty's music can seem very straightforward. Were there any songs you found particularly difficult to learn?

I don't know if there's any one song that was more difficult. Some songs just take time to settle in. Of course, we do put ourselves into the songs and try to make them our own. However, we also don't do anything that's out of character or style and idiom. We're not trying to play note-for-note, but we're also not changing the main theme or chorus, or adding Joe Satriani guitar licks.

What advice would you offer to anyone thinking about starting a tribute band?

Anyone who thinks they can just start up a tribute band and make instant money is delusional.

It's important that you're doing it for the right reasons and you're playing the songs well. Only in the last two years, it would seem, we've been able to enjoy the fruits of our labor.


When: 9 p.m. Friday

Where: Harlow's, 2708 J St., Sacramento

Cost: $15


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