Dylan-Petty crisp, clean for 20,000
By Marty Racine
Houston Chronicle — Saturday, June 21, 1986
It’s a hard rain that’s gonna fall, but you didn’t need a weatherman to know that those ominous afternoon thunderstorms Friday cleared out in time for the much anticipated Bob Dylan-Tom Petty concert at Southern Star Amphitheater.
Indeed, it turned into a beautiful evening as the approaching full moon seemed to hang right out there over the Gulf, grinning at the stage.
All the better for one of the hottest, most soul-stirring concerts I’ve ever seen in this fair city.
A crowd estimated at 20,000 attended.
If one ever doubted that a superstar and a super-superstar could share the same stage, Friday’s show took care of that. Not only did the crowd heap equal adoration and respect on Dylan and Petty, but the one long, 2 ½-hour hour set was a stroke of brilliant balancing. With Petty’s Heartbreakers – drummer Stan Lynch, bassist Howie Epstein, keyboardist Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell – setting the table, the two main figures took turns on their own songs – appearing together, solo, and together again. They were complemented by a female backup vocal quartet, these days called the Queens of Rhythm, who’ve played off and on with Dylan for the past eight years.
The wardrobe motif was red, white and black.
In this modern age where bands break up due to their individual “artist needs” to go solo, this was just the opposite.
Heck, in sum this was one helluva band. That Bob Dylan guy, though, might one day want to step out on his own. The show started about 15 minutes past the scheduled 8 p.m. starting time, with Dylan, Petty and the Heartbreakers cruising through seven, Dylanesque songs: “Take A Hand, Positively 4th Street, Clean Cut Kid, I Remember You, Shot of Love, We Had It All” and “Union Sundown”. They came out rocking – the sound mix was excellent – and already one knew this was going to be a serious set of bluesy, soulful, bawdy, rollicking, shuffling rock ‘n’ roll.
Dylan was blowing his voice out at the high registers, the Heartbreakers – usually not the most animated group – were playing tough and inspired.
Then Dylan departed and Petty and the Heartbreakers did their own “Slipping Into Darkness, Fooled Again, Waiting Is The Hardest Part” and “Break Down”. On the latter, we saw that this was as much his crowd as Dylan’s, as the audience not only followed, but led the singing. “Break Down” was a monster, and it slowly, stealthily, crawled to an ending.
Then Dylan returned for a short solo acoustic interlude: “For Ramona, Hard Rain” and the best of the lot, “It Ain’t Me, Babe”. It Ain’t Me was a stirring rendition, replete with furious guitar strums and harmonica wails that evoked, simply, the early, folkie Bob Dylan who we all loved so much. A sing-along swelled from the audience. The air was warm and light. The moon was beaming.
Petty and Dylan shared a vocal mike for a countrified “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know”, highlighted by Epstein’s workout on an electrified mandolin. Then it was punch time once again, time for serious, full band business.
Everybody kicked into “Band of the Hand, When The Night Comes Falling Out of the Sky,” a cover of Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town” and the Dylan classic “Ballad of a Thin Man”.
Again, Dylan walked off, leaving Petty and his Heartbreakers with the Byrds’ “So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star”; a cool, nasty, slinky version of “Hey Spike” off Petty’s “Southern Accents” LP, and then two rocking twangers: “Bye Bye Johnny”, a reference to Chuck Berry; and “Refugee”, just about the best song Petty ever wrote.
Dylan joined the band for a few of his classics: “Rainy Day Women (Everybody Must Get Stoned)”, which, he announced, “can be taken two ways”; “The Real You At Last”; Ry Cooder’s “Borderline”; I And I; and “Like A Rolling Stone”. I had to leave for deadline, but I was told that Dylan would do an encore which included “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”.
This was the ninth stop on the pair’s U.S. tour, which was prefaced by an Australian tour this spring. At this point, the tour is to run until Aug. 5, but more dates might be added.
I was told by an unimpeachable source that Dylan, who arrived Thursday, “hates this weather” we’ve encountered here lately. After all, he’s originally from northern Minnesota, and when he looked out of his downtown Lancaster Hotel room at the Friday afternoon storm and humidity, he must have been wondering what the heck he’d gotten himself into.
But Petty is the Southern boy, understand, from Florida originally. And I can hear him saying, “Now, Bob, don’t worry. That’s just the Tropics. When the moon comes up and the sun goes down over Texas, we’re gonna have ourselves a time.”
Did they ever.