Rock: Petty in Concert
By Stephen Holden
The New York Times — June 17, 1985
Classic rock and roll that extends and deepens traditions established in the 60’s and early 70’s may be a slowly vanishing breed of music. But its most dedicated practitioners continue to produce a guitar-based electric music that is a ruminative, visceral expression of populist feeling.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who performed at the Byrne Meadowlands Arena on Saturday, belong to this breed, as do Bob Seger and Bruce Springsteen. Each represents a different, though related, aspect of the American sensibility. Mr. Petty, who was brought up in Gainesville, Fla., writes and sings from a working-class Southern point of view. And on his latest album, “Southern Accents,” he has created a sequence of pungent dramatic monologues that draw a composite portrait of a restless young Southerner.
Although Mr. Petty performed songs that ranged back to the mid-70’s on Saturday, the concert versions of material from “Southern Accents” formed the artistic heart of his show, and they gave his set an emotional depth and psychological resonance that one seldom encounters at a rock concert these days. The album’s hard, blues-based songs, “It Ain’t Nothin’ to Me,” “Spike” and “Dogs on the Run,” in which a contemporary Southern rebel expresses his regional pride as an animalistic indifference to contemporary culture, were drawn out by full-bodied arrangements that featured the snarling guitar solos of the Heartbreakers’ lead guitarist, Mike Campbell. And Mr. Petty’s surly, half-strangulated vocals, echoing Bob Dylan and the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, more than matched the recorded versions in dramatic impact. Mr. Petty’s quaveringly articulated rendition of the new album’s hymnlike title song provided the still point around which the rest of the songs cohered.