Orlando Sentinel — July 10, 1989

Petty Treats Orlando Like an Old Friend
By Parry Gettelman
Orlando Sentinel — July 10, 1989

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers had themselves a fine homecoming Saturday night. Of course, they’d never played the new Orlando Arena before, but the crowd was a stamping, screaming band of partisans, and Petty treated them like a host of old pals from his favorite bar.

Petty opened with “American Girl,” from his 1976 debut album. The sound mix wasn’t fully sorted out until the end of the song (Mike Campbell’s guitar and Petty’s vocals were a little muddy), but from the first chords, it was obvious Gainesville’s finest were psyched to rock.

For the past year, Petty’s been busy as a solo artist and Traveling Wilbury. Campbell co-produced and played on Petty’s Full Moon Fever, and bassist Howie Epstein and keyboard player Benmont Tench made guest appearances, but it’s been two years since the Heartbreakers’ tour with the Georgia Satellites.

Although Saturday was only the third night of the present tour, the band sounded as tight as if they’d been playing gigs together every weekend. Their time apart seems only to have left them with renewed fervor. The Heartbreakers stuck mostly to their best-known material, including early-’80s hits such as “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “Refugee” and “The Waiting,” but it all sounded just as fresh as the songs from the new Petty album.

Campbell led off “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” from 1985’s Southern Accents, with a psychedelic rave-up, using the bottom of a bottle instead of a pick. (Video screens behind the band, suspended between an arc of tall pillars, displayed bright blotches like a tie-dyed T-shirt come to life.)

On “Breakdown,” Tench’s jazzy piano intro segued into Campbell’s bluesy guitar and then turned into the familiar, snaking verse and jolting chorus.

Petty’s rhythm guitar was just as important as Campbell’s heroics. He went acoustic for a string of songs, including “Even the Losers,” with Campbell on mandolin, and “Southern Accents,” highlighted by beautiful vocal harmonies and Campbell’s lap steel guitar. Petty introduced the song as his favorite of his own compositions, and dedicated it to the crowd, which went suitably wild.

The crowd went wild after every number, applauding and hollering and stamping. Petty seemed to get a big kick out of it, proclaiming happily after one song “Y’all are nuts out there.”

Dressed in patched jeans and a blue shirt with a loose necktie, Petty talked easily to the audience, and had better control of them than any posturing, pandering mousse advertisement. He incited the obligatory sing-along on “The Waiting,” but put a personal spin on it by holding the last note of a phrase just a bit longer than he does on the record, outlasting the audience’s part.

Petty’s awareness of the mass adulation took a playful form. At one point, he staggered back out of a spotlight, as if surprised by it. Later, when the applause waxed particularly loud, Petty dropped to his knees, letting his guitar hang by its strap, and put his hands together over his head, prayer-fashion, in jocular humility.

The Heartbreakers did a number of songs from Full Moon Fever over the course of the concert. Petty and Campbell’s double-Rickenbacker effort launched the jangly, Byrdsian “Free Fallin,” and Tench took the number higher still with a lovely piano bridge.

Petty’s voice sounded a little hoarse here, but quickly recovered, raising the recurring question of how a man whose vocals sound so strangely strangulated can be such a powerful and compelling singer.

From the new solo album, Petty also performed “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “Yer So Bad” and a faithful cover of the Byrds’ “Feel a Whole Lot Better,” with Epstein, Tench and drummer Stan Lynch singing gorgeous harmonies.

Petty prefaced the album’s hit single “I Won’t Back Down” with a small, sincere speech about how happy he was to kick off the tour in Florida, and how beautiful he finds it here.

“A lot of the country isn’t so beautiful anymore,” he said, and advised everyone to do whatever they could to keep the air and the beaches clean.

Petty and the Heartbreakers kept their energy building through the concert, reaching a peak at the end with full-out covers of the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” and the Georgia Satellites’ “Keep Your Hands to Yourself,” followed by the hot-cold passion of “Refugee.”

The band left the stage, and returned after a long, noisy interval for a two-song encore revealing Petty’s latent British influences. Campbell got his chance to show some impressive blues chops on the Yardbirds’ “I’m Not Talking.”

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