Tom Petty: good record, better show
By Carol Brown
New London Day — July 5, 1980
PROVIDENCE — “Damn the Torpedoes” is about to pass the two million sales mark, but Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Providence performance at the Ocean State Theatre last week was already every bit a live, double-platinum show.
Petty’s latest album, his third, has been well up on the national charts for over eight months. It’s still holding its own among the top 30 LP’s, and if Petty’s first two releases didn’t establish him as a solid mainstream rock contender, “Damn the Torpeodes” certainly has.
His material may be considered derivatice, up-date ’60s rock and roll, but this album is appealing, it’s well-balanced, there are plenty of good cuts, changes of face, and instrumental licks. Benmont Tench’s keyboards have a wonderful, light touch, the guitar work is great, and Stan Lynch’s drums and vocal harmonies are solid background for the Heartbreakers’ convincing overall performance — but Tom Petty and his band are at their peak in concert!
The Providence appearance Wednesday was sold out seven weeks in advance, and believe me, I can understand why. It was the best rock show I’ve seen in ages, and one I’ll remember with a great deal of pleasure.
Tommy Tutone, a young, San Francisco-based band which has made some waves with its first, self-titled album, opened for petty. The modest, nine-song, 45-minute set was good, although this is the group’s first tour, and they need this concert mileage. Guitarist Jim Keller told me after their set that they hadn’t even played the club circuit before joining the Petty tour in Denver on June 8th — just bars — and I think they’re doing a good job, but the audience was up for the main act, and with reason.
For nearly two hours, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers stormed through their 19 songs, which included four encores, for one of the most exciting and sustained high-energy rock performances imaginable. The audience were on their feet from the start, and throughout most of the evening, for what must be one of the most entertaining bands on the scene today.
Musically, there was a little of everything on the program, and a lot of sound — so much so in fact and the high end got so intense out in the house — that I ran for cover and listened off-stage through the band’s monitors. But it was great, and the performers seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as their audience obviously was. Tom Petty grinned and clowned. He has real style and appealing delivery as a rock vocalist — whether he’s doing a ballad like the new “Best of Everything,” or the growling way at some uptempo rock number like “Shadow.” Petty, Mike Campbell, and bassist Ron Blair perform like instrumental whiz kids, and the guitar work is genuinely exciting, their changes are great, and the dialogies and instrumental harmonies are a pleasure.
“Here Comes My Girl” from the “Torpedoes” LP was even better live than recorded and so was “Refugee” — one of my Favorites. “Even the Losers” had some wonderful harmonies by Petty and drummer Stan Lynch. “American Girl” was a highlight, and the band’s final “Shout” seemed all that one could ask for, but Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers went on to do four encores for the nearly hysterical capacity crowd of 3,200.
The rock world is a scene of feverish activity right now. Every supergroup you’ve ever heard of has a new release. Heavy metal bands are basking in unprecedenting popularity and enjoying critical attention, but Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are special. They have what it takes, I believe, to be more than just survivors. I think they’re truly stars.