Petty and band offer fun, non-stress rock
By Lynne Margolis
Washington Observer-Reporter — August 26, 1989
Now I know why a friend grabbed her wedding party and skipped out on her own reception to attend a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert once.
Petty and the band know how to make their audience have a great time. Of course, it helps when the crowd is as appreciative as it was Thursday night at Duquesne University’s A.J. Palumbo Center.
Before the first note sounded in the hour-and-45-minute concert, many in the audience were on their feet. As soon as the band started into the Byrds’ “Feel A Whole Lot Better,” the sing-along began.
At one point, the band delivered a blues-jazz intro that came the seductive melody, “Breakdown.” Almost before Petty sang the first note, the crowd commandeered the song from him, singing the whole thing as he shrugged his shoulders and conducted.
The new songs from “Full Moon Fever,” including “Free Fallin’,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Yer So Bad,” “A Face in the Crowd,” and “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” got equally enthusiastic responses.
It quickly became clear that Petty and the Heartbreakers’ appeal lies in their ability to create good-time, non-stressful rock ‘n’ roll music. But they’re not afraid to throw in a few twists to break the routine, either.
Interesting moments came when pianist Benmont Tench III launched into a full-tilt boogie for his original tune, “The Boogie-Woogie Turtle,” played live for the first time in Pittsburgh, and during “Little Red Rooster,” a killer Willie Dixon blues tune performed as an encore.
Petty also heated up his Rickenbacker guitar for a hammy version of the unexpected Clash song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?,” which seems to be gaining popularity as a cover tune. (Living Colour performed it here in April.)
Another striking aspect of the Heartbreakers’ musical chemistry is that it’s so strong; there’s a tightness that comes from the stability of playing together for years. Lead guitarist Mike Campbell, who delivered incredibly hot licks all night on guitar and mandolin, had a big hand in “Full Moon Fever,” Petty’s first solo effort. Tench is a very talented keyboard player, and drummer Stan Lynch and bassist Howie Epstein can pound the skins and strum the low notes — and sing harmony — with the best of ’em. Any member of this band could leave and start his own group. but they continue to stick with Petty, making because it seems to be so much fun performing tunes like “American Girl,” “You Got Lucky,” “Refugee,” “The Waiting,” “Even the Losers,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” and “Rebel.”
Most of these songs have infectious beats seat to easy-to-sing-along lyrics (“With one foot in the grave, and one foot on the pedal, I was born a rebel”). But Petty’s songs are not simplistic, either. Tunes like the encore “Jammin’ Me” have sociopolitical undertones (“dig that acid rain, dig that Pete Rose”), and others plumb the depths of romantic involvement.
Far from being a showy, shallow performer, the petite Petty seems like a friendly, down-to-earth guy. He wore a simple outfit of black jeans and a black, embroidered jacket, later removed to show a brightly flowered shirt. Occasionally, he donned his well-worn hat.
Introducing himself and the band as “the musical entertainment tonight,” he later thanked the audience for its “Breakdown” rendition by saying, “I really appreciate you singing that song; that’s really nice. But now I feel slightly lazy and irresponsible. I am basically lazy and irresponsible.”
However, he said, he’d promised himself he’d be responsible enough to plug the conversion cause each night of this tour, which he did, aided by Greenpeace tables in the lobby. Petty ended his comments with the plea, “Don’t buy any Exxon gas.”
Chances are, Exxon lost 4,672 customers Thursday night.
Opening or Petty and the Heartbreakers was The Replacements, an up-and-coming band that, nonetheless, could use a lot more stage discipline — at least three times, they started songs, played a few bars and quit, leaving listeners hanging. They did manage to complete two notable tunes — The Who’s “I Can See For Miles,” and their own “Alex Chilton,” named for the former Box Tops singer. The Replacements also could use a replacement sound engineer if they really want their music to be appreciated.