Petty, pals lift fans to full (moon) fever
By Marty Racine
Houston Chronicle — Friday, July 14, 1989
While Tom Petty chased his muse this year for a spot in the Traveling Wilburys and a shot at a solo album, “Full Moon Fever”, his longtime backup band the Heartbreakers hung around and waited for a call to action.
The Breakers got some “guest” appearances on “Fever”, but like all good rock ‘n` roll outfits, they only got anxious without road work. When Petty finished his hobbies, he knew to where to look – to Howie Epstein, Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench and Stan Lynch, the guys (save Lynch) with whom he’s been associated since another rock era of the ’70s.
The quintet presented a stripped-down version of the hits and contemporary songs Thursday night at the Summit on – take your pick – Petty’s “Strange Behavior” or “The Name of Tour” tour. It coalesced into Petty’s best, most impassioned concert ever in Houston.
Opening act the Replacements, fresh from Sire Records success with the albums “Pleased To Meet Me” and “Don’t Tell A Soul”, were expected to push Petty along but as it stood, they were not even needed.
Good thing. The Minneapolis quartet started strong on a 45-minute set but lost steam halfway through and limped home without a clue as to what it takes to excite a large hall. Guitarist Slim Dunlap, who replaced Bob Stinson two years ago, looked about as excited as a law student boning up on courtroom etiquette. Bring back that scoundrel Stinson!
Dunlap typified – perhaps it wasn’t totally his fault – a half-inspired set that did not take advantage of the Replacements’ wonderful songs. Perhaps the music’s tendency to fall apart at the vortex of power finally has caught up with the group as it tries to salvage an identity in touring’s major leagues.
Petty, dressed in bright green shirt and riverboat-gambler vest, subsequently had the joint to himself. The animated, fawning crowd of about 12,000 – sold-out crowds are no longer the norm in arena-rock touring these days – surprised him with its knowledge of material.
He opened naturally with some smooth familiarities: “American Girl” and “Don’t Do me Like That”. Free Fallin’, from “Full Moon Fever”, followed and segued into “Waiting Is The Hardest Part”.
Then, “Break Down” established great dynamics with its slinky intro. Campbell took heed and hit some bluesy licks while Tench laid down shimmering, neo-psychedelic piano ones.
“It’s good to be lookin’ at the country again,” Petty told the boisterous gathering, then laid down his politics for the night: that “solutions” are up to individuals, “not George Bush.”
“I personally don’t buy Exxon gasoline,” he said to a roaring response in the middle of Oil City. “I hope 100 years from tonight Texas (large cheers) is as beautiful as today.”
Petty went on the offensive, “I Won’t Back Down”, as Campbell peeled off a gorgeous slide.
But the set came to life about an hour into the program with the new “Zombie Zoo”, after which Petty donned acoustic guitar for “Even The Losers”. Returning to electric he ripped into “Good Love Is hard To Find, You Get Lucky” (with Campbell on sweet harmonics) and “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”.
Crossing into cover material, Petty resurrected the Georgia Satellite’s great “Keep Your Hands To Yourself”, then hit his Florida roots with I’m A Rebel.
Time constraint precluded me from catching the last half-hour, but suffice it to say, Petty was as animated and excitable as his adopted California cool has ever let on.