Tom Petty Returns with a 1st Rate Performance
By David Silverman
Chicago Tribune — August 11, 1989
After more than two years away from the road, Tom Petty was begging a little forgiveness: “We’re just trying to learn to act responsible again, you know, get the feel of this thing.”
It had been a while for one of rock’s true rebels, a 28-month break that saw Petty’s stock rise with a jaunt into the fanciful land of the Wilburys and a first (platinum) solo album besides. But there was little to apologize for Thursday night at Poplar Creek as he returned with his longtime musical companions, the Heartbreakers.
For the 18,000 or so faithful, who braved snarled highway traffic and tropical cloudbursts on the way to the show, the payoff was one of the summer’s finest performances as Petty wheeled through a two-hour set of old and new.
The stage was a mix of Indian Lodge and Viking Manor, complete with totem pole, suit of armor and the occasional stuffed bear, but the music was Petty’s patent mix of roots, Southern rock and California guitar, with a bit of Memphis tossed in for flavor. The group opened with “American Girl,” from its self-titled debut more than a decade ago, then moved to the music from Petty’s recent solo venture, “Full Moon Fever.”
“Free Falling,” the album’s opener, suffered from the obvious absence of E.L.O guitarist Jeff Lynne, who coproduced the LP and cowrote seven of the songs. It was inevitable that certain touches would be missing from the album’s music as Petty moved from the album’s three-guitar assemblage (Petty, Lynne and Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell)-the staccato flurry at the end, that of “Free Falling” for instance, and the general lushness of the studio production were lost.
But they were minor casualties, given Campbell’s dynamic performance and Petty’s energy throughout the evening. “Free Falling” was followed by an unusual version of “The Waiting.” It began as a Petty electric solo, with generous chorus help from the crowd, and turned into explosive, fully instrumentalized rocker at midsong. By the time the first chords of
“Breakdown” began, there was no need for Petty to sing as the crowd took over, from start to finish, as Petty played concertmaster center stage.
There was also homage paid to the King, as Petty sampled a little Elvis, and a touch of the unusual-a bit of the Clash. There wasn’t a trace of the music from the Wilburys’ eponymous debut, but it wasn’t necessary as the band closed out the night with standards like “Refugee” and “I Need to Know.”
In all, it was a collection of nearly 25 songs that played to the night’s general theme: solid rock ‘n’ roll, played from the heart by one of the best band’s American music has to offer. No apologies necessary.