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Music Opinion: Tom Petty ends rock ‘n’ roll drought with Bayfront concert
By Robert Ely
St. Petersburg Times — July 16, 1980
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in concert at the Bayfront Center arena, Tuesday July 15. ★★★
Tom Petty played the Bayfront Center Arena Tuesday night like a champion tennis player coming from behind. The first third of his nearly two-hour set lacked that winning style that puts an audience away, but the Petty midgame and end-game built strongly to a smashing conclusion.
When he first appeared onstage beneath an elaborate bank of lights, and surrounded by walls of speakers that delivered crisp, high-decibel sound, Petty announced he’d been partying beforehand. It was, after all, a concert billed as the third annual 98 Rock Birthday Bash. But Petty’s delivery and the band’s energy were as wispy as the blond hair that frames his angular face.
When he arrived, after four or five songs at Even the Losers, a testament to endurance in the face of outrageous fortune, his performance began to hint at something more powerful. Before long, the Heartbreaker’s keyboard man, Benmont Tench, was pounding the big piano chords and organ fills to Petty’s protest on bad love, Don’t Do Me Like That. He had come alive.
Superb songs, including the Refugee, with is as gutteral as American Girl is lyrical, brought Petty and the Heartbreakers’ form to a high cruising speed. And then he introduced a new song, a slow and poignant expression of good wishes to an old love called The Best Of Everything. It is one of his best.
One of the most dramatic moments of the show evolved with the song Breakdown, in which Petty slowly acted out what the title implies, ending with his head folded in his arms across the microphone. We did three encores, but the 8,091 paying customers, obviously wanted more. The summer drought has parallelled a dry spell for engaging concerts on the Suncoast, but Petty and his hard-working band made good rock ‘n’ roll rain again.