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Concert Report: Petty’s transformation leaves his audience shouting for more
By Cathy M. Lewis
Lakeland Ledger — Monday, October 5, 1981
Donning cowboy boots and a blue bandanna tied beneath a full-toothed grin, Tom Petty moved onto the Lakeland stage Friday looking like the embodiment of the mythical all-American boy.
Petty smiled his way through “American Girl” and “Listen to Her Heart” with the naturalness of water moving against the coastline of Florida, his native state. Even a haunting keyboard solo by Benmont Tench on the grand piano during “A Thing About You” didn’t erase Petty’s smile.
When the band launced into “I’m in Love,” Petty skipped and swaggered across the stage with the joy of an adolescent in puppy love.
Watch Petty prance. Watch Petty preen. The rest of the audience leaned back and relaxed. They’d just watch and wait their turn. And the singer didn’t disappoint them.
It was a slow build. Petty mixed just enough pain into “Here Comes My Girl” to make the words sound as though they came from personal experience. And there was just enough of Bruce Springsteen in his voice to assure the few 25-year-olds in the audience he knew what rock ‘n’ roll was about.
It was the beginning of a transformation that would leave Petty’s audience gasping for relief yet begging for more. Somewhere between the Kingsmen’s classic “Louie, Louie” and Petty’s own “Kings Road,” the all-American boy became a passionate, streetwise rocker.
Once the atmosphere in the civic center changed, there was little relief. Only a few tuned like “Night Watchman” — a song inspired by the man who protects Petty’s privacy at his San Fernando Home and backed Friday with a dazzling light show — and “Even the Losers Get Lucky” slowed the musical pulse of the evening.
Even then, with Petty leaning over his audience like a mad magician, swinging his arms full circle to end in a thunderous slash across his guitar, you could feel the momentum rolling through like shock waves.
When Petty’s voice cried with the ache of dashed hopes “she’s a woman in love but it’s not me,” Tench pulled the full power of his rhythm and blues background from the ivories.Teen-agers, some yet to experience that kind of pain, moaned right along with them.
When the lights went down and Petty grabbed the mike around the throat and demanded seductively, “You’ve got to give it to me,” the now hypnotized crowd groaned in anticipation of “Breakdown.” They were in love and their affair with Petty was not the light, joyful love of the first 15 minutes of this concert. This affair was full blown and passionate. They weren’t letting go.
The band launched into “Refugee” with exuberance, rocking with the Dylanesque lyric as if they had come home. The crowd didn’t mind. If Petty was clinging to his last like his critics have said, they would cling right along with him.
The acceptance of Petty’s occasional revelry into his roots was amazing considering the same audience had heartly booed Joe Ely’s late ’50s style during the opening act.
When Petty left the stage, the crowd wasn’t having any of it. Encoring with Sly and the Family Stone’s hit “Shout,” Petty led his believers with the fervor of a Southern minister. The force of their response literally knocked him flat on his back.
Even Petty seemed amazed at the feeling he was producing. He turned over, crawling belly down to the front of the stage, brought the mike down to the floor and hid behind a speaker.When Petty pulled his head from behind the speaker, one hand following the other, they were ready for him. He shook his head in disbelief. “I can’t believe you,” he said. “Boy, is it good to be home!”
For Petty, it was the climax of the show. And when his fans demanded a second encore, he slowed the tempo with a song from his new album. He must have realized that if he didn’t, he would never get out of the auditorium.
Still the believers stayed. When the house lights came up a moan of disappointment rolled its way across the crowd, as one by one, his congregation realized Petty was gone.
He had charmed them, wooed them, moved them and now he had left them — left them begging for more.