Tom Petty’s the musical man of the moment
By Christine Morris
Melbourne Age — April 30, 1980
SYDNEY — Tom Petty rarely ponders on the philosophies of rock and roll. He doesn’t bother to dissect or examine its meaning and direction, nor speak of it in complimentary terms.
In fact, the Florida-born singer-songwriter prefers to shrug off the music he plays as “disposable crap that won’t mean much in 10 years.” Such an attitude is not surprising considering Petty has just fought his way out of a conflict-ridden year of bitter wrangles with his record company and minor problems with the band, The Heartbreakers.
It is also little wonder the singer dislikes interviews, having to recount time over time the feelings of teetering on bankruptcy because his latest album ‘Damn The Torpedoes’ hit the top 10 in America.
On Sunday night at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre, Petty and The Heartbreakers proved that they play for the moment, hammering out pacy rock and roll that states everything Petty feels through the lyrics.
In a 90-minute bracket they also demonstrated loud gutsy music doesn’t need a lot of imagination or individual expression to be exciting.
Signs of The Heartbreakers first appeared when Petty left high school at 17 to join a Florida band called Mudcrutch.
Guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboard player Benmont Tench were already in the outfit and eventually pushed Petty on a not so successful search for recording deals in Los Angeles in the early 1970s.
It wasn’t until 1975, after the band had broken up and Petty had attempted a solo album, that the three met again at a recording session with bassist Ron Blair and drummer Stan Lynch. They soon emerged on the charts with a self-titled album which was initially mis-labelled punk, but a second album made little progress because it failed to live up to commercial or critical expectations.
Petty has said on more than one occasion that his songs are not meaningless quips on life although his bitterness and sense of persecution by the music industry has prompted him to retaliate with some “vicious” material.
“They’re just songs, I mean, I wanted this album to be more positive than the last which, to me, sounds like there’s a piece of glass between us and whoever we were singing to,” he said.
His music is popular because it is raw and raucous, riding on grinding guitar work, heavy thumping drumming but mainly Petty’s vocals.
His singing is rarely sweet, but his biting lyrics require the snarling twang — sometimes screaming, sometimes raspy — characteristic of his voice.
The scrawny blond also shows a lot of emotion on his face. He glares at the audience accusingly during “Don’t Do Me Like That” and bares his teeth as he sings.
Never letting the pace of the music falter, Petty drives the band through earlier pieces including ‘American Girl’ and ‘Breakdown’ to ‘Even the Losers’ and ‘Here Comes My Girl.’
He excels on ‘Refugee’, the single on present Australian charts, and then slows down momentarily for ‘Luna,’ joining Tench on keyboards for a nice blend of harmony.
Those familiar with the studio output of Petty and The Heartbreakers will not be disappointed with the band’s live reproduction of their material.
They will appear at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda tomorrow and Friday.