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Music Review: Petty has them singing along
By Jim Zebora
Meriden Record-Journal — Friday, September 1, 1989
BRISTOL — If album rock has a king, it must be Tom Petty.
Petty is a performer for the modern rock fan. He’s a drawling singer, a down home persona, a writer of songs with rather universal youthful sentiments.
He has the style that creates hits and keeps them alive in people minds an on the radio. Without challenging anyone too much, Petty makes his music pretty appealing.
And let’s call him rock’s sing-along king, too, since that’s what he was Thursday night at Lake Compounce Festival Park. With the exception of a mid-set instrumental and — curiously enough — a Bob Dylan cover, Petty had a greater percentage of the crowd joining in unbidden than any performer in recent memory save Ringo Starr.
Accompanied by his Heartbreakers, a band like its leader dedicated to straightforward, non-complex rocking, Petty delivered 100 minutes of music that was variously enthusiastic and exciting. Not always at the same time, but often enough to make the show worthwhile.
Petty and the guys appeared on an elaborately decorated stage that included a wooden cigar-store Indian, a massive set of steer horns, various totems, a stuffed snake and a mongoose having it out, and elaborate, entertaining lighting. What it all meant was a puzzle, but since this was a stop on Petty’s “Strange Behavior” tour, the paraphernalia not exactly out of place.
Musically, this show was a mixed bag for Petty. He played old and new hits, but he played with them as well — modifying their sound, delivering acoustic versions rather than the traditional electric, fostering long jams with guitarist Mike Campbell.
And he artfully added an eclectic set of cover songs that began with “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” and continued through Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and ended with the soul shouter, “Shout.”
Even when he’s cooking, Petty is a relaxed musician. His straightforward songs fit into a smooth groove that doesn’t put many demands on him, his band, or his audience. “American Girl,” the second song of the set, was a perfect example of his level-headed art, a loose song that invited more participation than analysis.
Other songs such as “The Waiting” and “Good Loving Is Hard To Find” fit Petty’s pattern perfectly, balancing an exciting delivery with a lyric that needed no interpretation.
Petty was at his best, though, when he went off the track with songs like “Listen To Her Heart.” Sure, this is one of his many hits, but i the tentative acoustic mode presented Thursday at Lake Compounce, it became vastly more intriguing.
The most complex music of the set hailed from Petty’s most recent Full Moon Fever album, his first without the Heartbreakers. Responsible for the sound of this record was Jeff Lynne, whose elaborate production is a trademark.
Lynne was a member, with Petty, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and the late Roy Orbison of the Traveling Wilburys, and he transferred that band’s sound directly to Petty’s songs on the record.
Petty took the songs back at Compounce, however, adding inflection and nuance to “Free Fallin’,” “I Won’t Back Down” and even “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” and adding a bit to their intrigue as well.
The 20-song set — no encore; Petty and the band were fighting about whether to go back on as this reviewer left through the stage entrance — was mostly characterized by Petty’s familiarity and amiability. Nothing was left to change, and nothing as a major surprise. He just came on stage, did his job, and did it very well.
The Petty show was opened by the exciting Minneapolis band, The Replacements, a group that has only recently departed bars and small halls for arenas.
But success hasn’t spoiled The Replacements or the band’s way of rocking. Singer/guitarist/frontman Paul Westerberg still wears messy clothes and messy hair, and still displays a casual attitude onstage.
Don’t believe it. Westerberg is a crafty songwriter and performer, and he puts his soul into his rocking.
Though The Replacements did only a 40-minute set, their music was infectious and sometimes thrilling. Petty may have been the star, but hearing the Replacements do “I’ll Be You” and other songs was worth the price of admission.