Tom Petty’s Back, And The Waiting Was Worth It
By Rick Kogan
Chicago Tribune — June 24, 1985
It doesn’t take much courage, just three days into the sunniest season, to declare Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Saturday night concert at Poplar Creek the best show of the summer.
But such was the potency and unabashed rock and roll drive of the performance that Saturday night’s show could–and should–retain its lofty ranking throughout the summer.
Admittedly, there were some tentative moments. This surely can be attributed to the band’s not having toured for two years; only three weeks into this current American swing, there still are a few kinks to work out. It was obvious that the players were still feeling their way around a few of the evening’s selections.
But this did little to dim an otherwise striking evening.
Showing no ill effects from the broken hand he suffered eight months ago, Petty played and sang with dominant control. His voice was especially controlled and efficient, more and more Dylanesque but nevertheless distinctive and full of articulate impact.
Abetted by those wizard Heartbreakers–most stunningly lead guitarist Mike Campbell, who had some breathtaking solo excursions–and backed by a four-man horn section and two striking singers and minor percussionists, Petty provided an occasionally captivating and consistently stimulating gathering of his material, leaning most heavily on his current album, “Southern Accents.” Indeed, the most effective number of the night was “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” that paean to psychedelia, which came complete with a nostalgic light show and elicited a sustained and joyful standing ovation.
One of the most interesting things about Petty’s music is its ability to communicate on multiple levels–to hard-core rockers and to those looking for a little substance with their sounds. Both crowds turned out in abundance.
And both crowds found special satisfaction in the songs from “Southern Accents,” songs able to carry thoughtful and carefully crafted embellishments –horns or background vocals–without damaging the rock and roll core. The total package is most welcome on this sometimes one-note scene.
“It Ain’t Nothin’ to Me” was particularly appealing. A collaborative effort between Petty and David Stewart of the Eurythmics, its strong rhythm-and-blues feel is at once dangerous and uplifting. Other selections from that determinedly adventurous album–the title song included–provided not only examples of Petty’s craftsmanship but his desire to push and expand his talents.
Though “Southern Accents” material dominated the show, Petty included a good number of songs from bygone albums, some of which held up better than others. Though “Listen To Her Heart” was missing its previous razor-sharp teeth, “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “The Waiting” were as vigorous as ever, that latter number positively refreshed.
Clearly, Petty and his mates (Benmont Tench on piano and organ, Howie Epstein on bass and Stan Lynch on drums) were grateful for the strong reception they received Saturday night.
This early into the summer and onto the road, it’s nice for them to know they are again welcome, to realize they still have exactly what it takes to make rock and roll something memorable.