Petty concert set on full speed
By Jay Watson
The Red & Black — October 1, 1981
Aptly enough, the predominant theme behind Tuesday’s performance by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in Atlanta might have been labeled, “Damn the Torpedoes,” for there is no question that these Floridans came in rocking full speed ahead.
Undaunted by the strain and pressure of touring, constant promotion and two best-selling albums, Petty capitalized on the incredible momentum generated by the aforementioned album. The Heartbreakers set the Civic Center and several thousand maniacal fans on the edges of their seats with a set that displayed the band’s capacity for admirable diversity amidst a common excellence.
The Joe Ely Band opened the show with a forty-minute set of Texas booze-blue and rockabilly tunes. The standouts were an energized cover of fellow Texan Buddy Holly’s classic “Not Fade Away,” in which the guitar-saxophone chemistry finally sprked, and a clever jam entitled “I Let My Fingernails Grow.” Ely’s high-speed, high-volume approach geared the crowd up sufficiently to await the feature set.
From the first wave of ringing guitar chords of Petty’s quintessential opener, “American Girl,” the show’s excellence was never in doubt. After crashing through that tune and delivering a moody, smoldering version of “Listen to Her Heart,” another early Petty favorite, the band settled into their playlist, which consisted of material from “Damn the Torpedoes” and “Hard Promises,” as well as a few oldies thrown in for good rocking measure.
Petty had the audience wrapped around his finger, and he knew it. The false endings of “A Thing About You” only worked the crowd to a higher fever pitch before he brought the band plummeting back into the song. Gone was the false bravado which had so much vulnerability and insecurity in the oddly celebratory studio version of “Here Comes My Girl.” Instead, Petty delivered the vocal with a detached ease, almost conversational in tone, which magnificently understated the emotion behind the lyrics.
Mike Campbell’s clarion lead guitar riff introduced a letter-perfect version of “The Waiting,” in which Petty somehow made that good hurt that comes with loving seem revelatory. The two-minute rave-up “I Need to Know” and the quirkily bouncy “Don’t Do Me Like That” could have fit right in alongside their studio counterparts, so verbatim were the renditions given.
Conversely, the group could turn up the power considerably if they wanted to, shaking free of all traces of pop texture for a purely rock approach. “Nightwatchman” powered by Lynch’s elbow grease and Campbell’s popping guitar backing, rollicked with a raucous, sloppy edge that was entirely appropriate for the song’s lumbering beat.
The guitars were turned all the way up for a slowed-down version of “King’s Road,” in which Petty hammered away at the rhythm while Campbell was given more than his usual room for soloing. The massively accented pauses only added to the song’s steady power.
Petty ground out a rare solo of stinging fury as a preface to “Breakdown” before the song’s signature riff was handled again by Campbell in a reverberating bit of lead work. Lynch, bassist Ron Blair and percussionist Phil Jones supplied a firm background in this song and in the epic grandeur of “Refugee,” in which Petty outshined this vocal on the studio cut.
Of the covers, “Louie, Louie” bopped along in good fun, with Petty’s slurring vocal recalling the original Kingsmen rendition. Tench’s organ backing was delightfully boppish. The ten-minute “Shout,” which Petty used as his first encore, brought the audience into play with its infectious call and response chorus and some great backing vocal work by Tench and Lynch, who throughout the concert supplied fine harmony.
The twelve-strings were plugged in and brought out for a twangy cover of the Byrds’ “So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star,” featuring Campbell’s manic inclusion of the solo from “Eight Miles High,” a musical mixing of metaphors which was highly clever.
Finally, the sonic boom power-chording of the finale, “Wild Thing,” went right for the viscera, as did cement-fisted drumming and the obligatory acid-head soloing. The escalating crescendo of the song’s waning moments brought the concert to a close fittingly, rocking like hell.