Petty’s Gainesville Show: A Hot Time In His Old Town
By Parry Gettelman
Orlando Sentinel — February 2, 1990
GAINESVILLE — If you didn’t make it up here for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ homecoming Saturday night, you missed a great show. But if it’s any consolation, the concert was marginally less superlative than the one at Orlando Arena last summer.
At the University of Florida’s O’Connell Center, it took the band a few songs to loosen up. Maybe it was a touch of nerves. As Petty noted, “We have a lot of friends and relatives here tonight, so we gotta be really good, you know.”
A man sitting behind us had gotten tickets through Petty’s brother Bruce and said the band had held some 300 tickets for its guests (Tom gave Bruce 48 – what a guy). However, longtime Petty fans seemed to be outnumbered by college-age folks, who were more familiar with Petty’s new solo material than the Heartbreakers’ classics.
On “Breakdown,” for instance, most of the crowd sang along only with the chorus. There was a bigger response for Petty’s latest hits, “I Won’t Back Down” and “Free Fallin’,” played back to back.
The audience didn’t give off quite as much energy as the one in Orlando, and the show was consequently a bit lower-key. But the Heartbreakers were obviously excited to be back.
Petty proudly announced that the band had set an O’Connell Center record for fastest sell-out, and he said several times he didn’t have words to describe how good he felt. (It must’ve been nice to see those “Welcome home, Tom Petty” signs all over Gainesville although we never found out whether he went in and asked for the free gator tail one restaurant offered him on its marquee.) Although the show wasn’t quite as hard-rocking as the one in Orlando, the Heartbreakers made up for that with added intimacy. Petty dedicated a lovely, thoughtful “Southern Accents” to the memories of Dub Thomas (owner of Dub’s, a bar where Petty used to play with his old band, Mudcrutch) and of his mother, “who’s here tonight.”
Also, “for the first time in Heartbreaker history,” as Petty said, drummer Stan Lynch sang a song. He did a yeomanly cover of Chuck Berry’s “Down the Road a Piece,” a boogie-woogie rocker. Lynch was his usual unobtrusive but powerhouse self all night on the skins – his stickwork behind “Free Fallin’ ” was especially good. It emphasized what makes the song so memorable: the pretty melody carried along by dreamy but fast-floating rhythms.
It was a good night for all the Heartbreakers. Keyboard player Benmont Tench showed why he’s so much in demand for studio work. His fills were exceptional, and his casual mastery was highlighted in a rollicking boogie-woogie instrumental. Howie Epstein’s harmonies were as essential as his bass lines.
The Heartbreakers finished strong with some of their older songs, from “You Got Lucky” to “Rebel” and a rave-up “Refugee,” which found Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell really burning.
All in all, it was one of the best rock shows since, well, since the Heartbreakers’ Orlando show.
Opening act Lenny Kravitz had to fight muddy sound but connected with the crowd nonetheless (it was probably just as well that some of his sappier lyrics were lost in the mix). He showed a lot of vocal and compositional range for a new artist – from an almost Randy Newman-esque thoughtfulness on slower songs to an acid-drenched passion on the rockers.
On the harder-hitting numbers, Kravitz often sounded like what might have happened if Elvis Costello had gotten together with White Album-era Paul McCartney (rather than post-“Ebony and Ivory” Paul). Kravitz’s band also was very tight even though Kravitz had played most of the instruments himself on his Let Love Rule.
Elsewhere. While we were in Gainesville, we checked out Petty’s old haunt, Dub’s. OK, so we were kind of hoping Petty would show up, but the place has enough character to be worth visiting even if none of the stars come out.
The building on U.S. Highway 441 is plain cinder block and could be anything from a windowless, down-market factory outlet store to a supper club for agoraphobics. Inside, Dub’s is much bigger than you would expect and has an endearingly tacky, outdated quality.
For example, there’s a huge aquarium by the entrance, redolent of waiting rooms. And the walls outside the restrooms are covered with shag carpeting in the traditional ’70s “earth tones,” which look like no colors found in nature.
In one corner, there’s a great flashing sign that blinks DUBS, lest you forget where you are. A large display is chockablock with signed photos of bands who have played the club, from locals to national acts such as the Radiators and Joan Jett.
The floor plan is sprawling. A large pool room in the back has its its own jukebox, loud enough to drown out the band. The selection ranges from Petty (naturally) to the latest dance hits.
The front part of the club is divided into 2 1/2 rooms, including a large bar area at one end, a dance floor and seating area in the middle and another bar area with a smaller seating area at the other end.
The best thing about Dub’s is the decidedly late-’70s rock club atmosphere. Jeans are de rigueur – a few woman wore spandex dresses but looked out of place. The band Saturday night, Circus of Fools, was fronted by a bleached-blonde Joan Jett clone and played bad Aerosmith and Loverboy covers. But between sets, the taped music included real rock – when was the last time you got to dance to an AC/DC song?