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Petty, Heartbreakers in top form
By Philip Booth
Lakeland Ledger — Tuesday, July 28, 1987
Tampa — His bony arms crossed in front of his face, strands of stringy blonde hair half-shrouding an earring, Gainesville-bred rocker Tom Petty leaned into the microphone as guitarist Mike Campbell cranked out the lean, familiar lead lines on “Breakdown.”
Petty, pale-skinned and clad in worn blue jeans, a T-shirt and a black leather vest, played the role of a rock and roll gypsy Sunday.
It was an awe-inspiring performance on the second-to-last date of Petty’s deservedly celebrated three-month-long Rock ‘n’ Roll Caravan.
“If I’ve never met you before, my name is Tom Petty, and these are the Heartbreakers,” the singer said in his patented slur-drawl after a blistering work-out on “Think About Me.”
Petty’s show, at the University of South Florida Sun Dome, was a homecoming of sorts for the 34-year-old singer-songwriter who learned his rock-and-roll pedigree at bars and fraternity parties in and around Gainesville.
Petty’s father and brothers numbered among the 9,264-strong USF crowd, which gave “Breakdown” the kind of attention usually reserved for encore numbers.
Petty, Campbell and Heartbreakers Stan Lynch on drums, Benmont Tench on keyboards and Howie Epstein on bass are in top form this time out, renewed by a fire inspired in part by last year’s touring backing Bob Dylan.
“This one here’s an old song,” Petty said as The Heartbreakers reached back 11 years for an invigorating, guitar-anthem version of “American Girl,” from the band’s debut album.
Here, and on Petty favorites including “Refugee,” “Don’t Do Me Like That” and “Even the Losers,” all from “Damn the Torpedoes” (1979), Campbell let loose with snippets of crackling lead-guitar lines.
Campbell is the kind of guitarist who doesn’t overwhelm with shlocky displays of virtuosity, opting instead say more than less.
And Petty is the kind of band leader who seldom hogs the spotlight.
On “The Waiting,” an exception to that rule of thumb, Petty strummed out the chugging guitar introduction, and launched into the hit single from 1981’s “Hard Promises.”
“You take it on faith/You take it to the heart/The waiting is the hardest part,” he sang, on a tune about patience and fidelity (take that, Tipper Gore), later offering some Pete Townshend-worthy guitar slashes before the Heartbreakers kicked in.
The show slowed down only once, when Roger McGuinn, the ex-Byrds leader who now lives in the Tampa Bay area, fronted the Heartbreakers for a trio of hits, including “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Eight Miles High.”
Petty also borrowed from Buffalo Springfield for an affecting cover of “For What It’s Worth,” the 1967 protest-charged song; from The Clash, for a slamming version of “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”; and from the Isley Brothers, for an infectious “Shout.”
Petty’s newest material, from the album “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough),” was equally invigorating — “Runaway Trains” benefited from Lynch’s measured drum staccato and Tench’s vigorous organ work; and “Jammin’ Me” was no less than the jammingnest tune of the evening.
If the Heartbreakers’ nearly two-hour set was uncompromising and riveting, the performance gained even more as the result of some enthusiastic playing by the Del Fuegos and the Georgia Satellites, the opening-act bands on the Rock and Roll Caravan.
The Boston-baned Del Fuegos, were fronted by lead singer Dan Zanes, who held onto his six-string for dear life and kept both feet firmly planted to the stage.
The Del Fuegos, darlings of the critics, played roots-rock material that wouldn’t be out of place at a dive in the Southwest or the Deep South.
At their best, their five-piece band sounded like Lone Justice without Maria McKee; at their worst, they were merely energetic and overconfident.
The Georgia Satellites, as ferociously scary looking as they were rambunctious, plowed through a 45-minute set that included “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” their sassy radio hit, and a cover of the Rolling Stones’ 1974 hit, “It’s Only Rock and Roll.”
It may only be rock and roll, but the work of the Del Fuegos and the Georgia Satellites paled in comparison to that of the Heartbreakers, a band whose energy, proficiency and showmanship were matched by the substance of the writing, mostly provided by Petty and Campbell.
The opening bands were long on jams, and short on inspired material.
The Del Fuegos’ Zanes made a promise at the beginning of his band’s eight-song set: “I think you’re probably going to see the best show of the tour.”
That promise was more than fulfilled in a nearly four-hour rock and roll marathon that seldom let up, a knock-down blast that reaffirmed the durability of American-rooted guitar-oriented music.
Ticket Price: $17
Show time: 8 p.m.
Total music time: 200 minutes
Ledger rating: Excellent