Petty fails to deliver at Great Woods
By Geoffrey A. Edgers
The Tufts Daily — September 20, 1989
Considering that on this tour with the Heartbreakers, Tom Petty is playing music more designed for the concert forum than anytime before, it was surprising that his appearance at Great Woods on Sept. 8 can best be described as a massive failure.
Petty’s recent albums Full Moon Fever and 1987’s Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) both have tight, catchy rock and roll sounds which maintain a looseness that should give the band a chance to improvise onstage. During the show, the looseness was there, but instead of thriving off of it, Petty and the Heartbreakers lulled the audience to sleep with it.
The show opened with a strong version of “American Girl,” and stayed at that level through “The Damage You’ve Done.” As a hint of things to come, however, “Breakdown” was ruined by Petty’s desire to cheer on fan singing instead of doing his job. Rather than using the strength of the music to carry the show, Petty depended on the inebriated state of the crowd and the video screens behind him to set the mood. From the lawn at Great Woods, however, the video screen is nearly indecipherable, so Petty’s technique was rendered ineffective.
The sing-along continued through a semi-acoustic set with “The Waiting” and “Rebel.” This part of the show was disorganized — there seemed to be no set plan for when the band would join in or stay out of songs. Spontaneity would have been more successful for an improviser such as Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, or the Violent Femmes, but Petty’s music demands a rock and roll groove that cannot be achieved without a tight, organized band. Every time the band hit a groove it was lost by Petty, who chose to treat each song in a fragmented and sloppy manner.
By the time “Something Big” rolled along, I was more interested in the creations being made out of light sticks by the women in front of me than in Petty’s dragging posturing. Strong versions of “Jammin’ Me” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” could not redeem the rest of the set, and neither could fine performances by guitarist Mike Campbell and piano player Benmont Tench.
Musically, the main problem was that songs lost their original energy towards the end. There were some unacceptable no-plays, including “Don’t Do Me Like That.” With the success of his first solo album, Full Moon Fever, Petty seems to think he has proven himself musically, and he now sees his job as bringing his fans together as one. Judging simply from this show, though, Tom Petty still has a lot of work left to do.