Pure rock ‘n’ roll
By Marty Racine
Houston Chronicle — Monday, June 1, 1987
Petty and rest of ‘caravan’ get down to basics.
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, the Georgia Satellites and the Del Fuegos were a reminder Saturday night of The Summit’s potential excellence in staging rock concerts.
Provocative, musically resplendent shows at the Big House on the Southwest Freeway have been difficult to come by in recent months, most of them saddled by too many decibels, inaudible vocals, cliche-ridden posturing and superfluous visual choreography – all the cartoonish excesses arena rock ultimately encourages.
But these three American bands, making their fourth stop on their lengthy “Rock ‘n’ Roll Caravan” summer tour, all did their part in restoring the purity of sound back into rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza.
Most arena shows are dominated by a headliner, in turn supported by a little-known up-and-coming opening act. The Caravan, styled after a ’50s roadshow when four or five acts shared a program, was a more democratic concept. Petty & The Heartbreakers happened to play last, and the 11-year-old quintet had to be right on top of its game, as the Fuegos and Satellites are rockin’ outfits headed into their prime.
The sound throughout was superb, the best I’ve heard in The Summit in a long time. No distortion, no weird bass or drum mixes elevating the bottom into an overamped frenzy, and clean, audible vocals.
Attendance, however, was disappointing, clocking in at about 10,000. While Petty is the next best thing to a superstar, his is an older crowd that consistently avoids arena concerts – one veteran lounge lizard of the local nightclub scene who did show up told me it was his first Summit outing in years. Overexposure could also be a factor: Petty toured Southern Star less than a year ago with Bob Dylan; the Georgia Satellites played six months ago at Cardi’s; and the Del Fuegos – hardly a draw on their own – have played the now-defunct Fool’s Gold and Cardi’s within the past two years.
The concert ran briskly. It didn’t just start on time, it was a couple of minutes early. Boston’s Del Fuegos, out with a new album, played a 35-minute set that had the moxie to include some down-tempo numbers – hardly your typical crowd-all-the-energy-in approach opening bands feel compelled to do.
The Satellites and the Florida-born Petty were the Southern boys looking to raise a little hell. The Satellites, formed by guitarists Dan Baird and Rick Richards in Atlanta in 1980 and for years little more than a regional roadhouse favorite, played a terrific 45-minute set that far, far surpassed their Cardi’s show.
Their apprenticeship with Bob Seger just months ago has matured this quartet and given them the confidence to dig into their songs with a spontaneity that can only be developed with experience. They played to the moment.
Sounding like a cross between the Rolling Stones and Lynyrd Skynyrd, these boys were rockin’, squealing out on interlocked twin lead guitar lines and jamming it home with their wonderfully elemental and tight rhythm section. Baird, clearly one of the emerging front men in the business, came off as a natural-born rocker in the classic Southern boogie tradition. His singing was surprisingly expressive, and while the Satellites are not fancy, it’s important to remember that simple, basic and straightforward rock ‘n’ roll is often the most difficult trick of all. For some, the Satellites were the most interesting act of the evening; Petty is not the most animated performer, and his songs have more nuance than explosive power. The Georgia boys might have earned an encore had the house lights not gone up in an effort to move the show along. Petty now had his format. Only a week prior to the tour’s start he suffered a tragedy when his L.A. home was gutted by arson-suspected fire. His desire to proceed reflects his readiness to play. And the Heartbreakers, a longstanding band (the sole personnel change in 11 years has been bassist Howie Epstein), are at a new peak following the Dylan association and a strong new album, “Let Me Up (I’ve had Enough)”. Strutting his cool and fine aura, Petty, in great vocal shape, opened with “Breakdown”, followed by “Think About Me, American Girl” and the percolating funk of the new “My Life/Your World”. He pulled out a surprise with a short political rap about trusting certain “leaders” currently in the news, with the conclusion that one can only believe in oneself. He then went into the ominous and politically charged ’60s anti-war song, “For What It’s Worth”. On “The Waiting”, Petty started out solo before the Heartbreakers kicked in with a wild stretch run. Guitarist Mike Campbell played tastefully as ever, but drummer Stan Lynch and keyboardist Benmont Tench displayed a marvelous touch all evening.
Finally, Petty invited the crowd to take a load off for two evocative acoustic numbers, the new and tender “It’ll All Work Out”, with Campbell on mandolin, and the slinky, finger-popping “Hey Spike”. It was a dynamic interlude.
Then it was back to standing rock ‘n’ roll on another surprise, ” Should I Stay or Should I Go?”, an old Clash song. That led into a triple finale: “Even the Losers, Jammin’ Me” and “Refugee”, arguably Petty’s best song ever. The set, sans encore, was exactly an hour and a half.
They returned for an encore of “You Got Lucky” and “So You Want To Be a Rock & Roll Star”.
No, I don’t want to be a star. At such moments I just want to listen.