Review: Petty Gets to the Core
By Steve Morse
Boston Globe — March 27, 1983
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers | In concert with Nick Lowe at the Centrum | On Thursday
By the end they were coming from everywhere. From the right of the stage, from the left and from wherever they could get a toehold to begin sprinting at him. Tall, short and all sizes in between, they had a single aim in mind – to hug and kiss Tom Petty. Nothing else mattered. They tackled himfrom behind and held on for dear life.
Although he’s never encouraged it, the blond and blue-eyed Petty has become a madly sought-after sex symbol. He must have had finger burns on his neck after Thursday’s show, a high-energy, two-hour joust which kept the road crew busy pulling females off him for the last frenzied half hour. By that time the crowd was standing and going absolutely bonkers, so it all seemed like a fleeting dream.
A born-and-bred rocker who still plays as if he’s in a small club and not an arena, Petty used a special stage with a lower front ramp that allowed close contact with the front rows, sans barricade. It put him right in the thick of the action – the way he’s always liked it – but at the same time gave easy access to fans who wanted to jump up and chase him.
Apart from the mayhem, this was a beauty of a show. The aw- shucks Petty, who is like a Huck Finn of rock ‘n’ roll (shy
on the outside but a wild man underneath), pumped out his twangy, Byrdsy pop with unflagging zeal.
And in keeping with his love of ’60s rock, he spliced in such oldies as the McCoys’ “Hang on Sloopy” (raising the pandemonimum level even higher by climbing some rear stairs and turning a mammoth theater spotlight on the crowd) and the highway anthem “Route 66,” taking off from the old Rolling Stones’ version and kicking it home with all-out fury.
The night had the makings of a barnburner right from the start when congenial journeyman Nick Lowe, who was likably inconsistent as usual, was given a candle-lit birthday cake by Petty. Something had to give, and it did a moment later when a roadie came out of nowhere and fired a cream pie in Lowe’s face. He dried off with a towel and ironically ended with his song “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding,” but the dye had been cast for an unbridled night.
Enthusiasm where I sat was blunted by yet another case of goon squad behavior by a Centrum usher (a burly gorilla who kicked two fans out of their own seats just because they wouldn’t sit down at his whim, even though most people were also standing in front of them), but not even this distracting idiocy could dampen spirits once Petty shifted into high gear.
With guitarist Mike Campbell stoking the fires and drummer Stan Lynch pounding at his kit like a young Mick Fleetwood, the Heartbreakers left rubber in their tracks. Singing about the vagaries of romance, with a taut blend of Dylanesque urgency and Buddy Holly-like merriment (including some authentic Holly stutters), Petty climaxed on “Breakdown,” a steely song about mental collapse caused by a failed relationship. To stress his point, he sang in a straight voice “I can take it, I can stand it,” but broke into shivers, shook the mike as though strangling it and went into loud moans.
All of which sparked another rush of females to the stage.