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Tom Petty an escape to youth
By John Laycock
The Windsor Star — Friday, June 19, 1981
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Thursday, Cobo Arena
DETROIT — Up in Tier C, Cobo’s cheap seats, I thought I had fallen into a high school sports event. My fellow residents in nosebleed heaven looked like they were skipping their homework for Tom Petty’s concert.
So, for that matter, did Tom Petty, at least from afar. In his sneakers and blond page-boy hair and neat grey sports shirt he looked, and sounded, a decade younger than his 29 years.
If not exactly straight, he certainly put on a straightforward show.
For an hour and a quarter or so he led the Heartbreakers through the hits from his Damn the Torpedoes albums and current Hard Promises which, after years of toil, finally put him in a position to draw 11,000 devotees to a concert.
Since the Heartbreakers are a guitar band with Petty’s raspy, rather whiny voice scuffing up the surface, their faithful onstage renditions of their recorded songs tend to separare into two categories:
— the droning, bottom-dragging songs that bring back memories of the Byrds: A Woman In Love, She Don’t Need You, Waiting Is The Hardest Part;
— the faster, pushier rockers with piano chords speeding up the action and putting more bounce into the beat: A Thing About You, I Need to Know, Don’t Do Me Like That.
Several times the band stepped away from the two most familiar albums, doing American Girl, the Petty Song that Roger McGuinn (of the Byrds) recorded, or a respectable Don’t Bring Me Down that was also respectful toward the original by Eric Burdon and the Animals.
Until that song, late in the set, their performance had been more honest than inspired. But King’s Road followed with Petty turning playful and the Heartbreakers expanding the song into a driving outburst. Then came the band’s first hot, Breakdown, sensuous and bluesy. Only the biggest song, Refugee, could top it, to end the show with the audience on their young feet.
Maybe, when they’ve seen more shows, they will realize that Petty could extend himself further, that the musicials can do more than reproduct the album when they start to interact. The last couple of numbers Thursday gave them a good taste, and maybe that’s enough to be worth climbing back up Cobo’s cliffs the next time Petty comes to town.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds opened the show with a batch of neat rhythm ‘n’ blues songs featuring nifty harmonica. Maybe fabulous in 1958; now just nice.