Petty Goes For Broke And Horizon Crowd Loves It
By Greg Kot
Chicago Tribune — February 16, 1990
Since emigrating from Florida to Los Angeles with a band called the Heartbreakers in the mid-’70s, Tom Petty has helped define the American rock mainstream and collected a trophy case full of platinum albums.
But nothing could have prepared him for the astonishing string of successes he’s had in the last year. First there was his stint in the Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison and Jeff Lynne, which yielded one of 1988-89’s best-selling albums.
Then last spring he released his first solo LP, “Full Moon Fever.”
Nearly a year later, it’s still in the Billboard Top 10, a reign worthy of a Springsteen or a Madonna.
And it was as a big-time star that Petty was welcomed to the Rosemont Horizon Thursday night. A capacity crowd greeted his every gesture with a roar of approval, and sang along with their hero at every opportunity.
It would have been easy for the star of the show to go with the flow and crank out all the old favorites with assembly-line efficiency. And Petty did indeed lean on some tired warhorses like “Refugee” (with its self-evident platitudes about “Everybody’s got to fight to be free,” etc.) to fill out his set.
But for the most part, Petty and the Heartbreakers seemed to have rethought and recast their best music for this current five-week tour, as if trying to rediscover its essence before entering the studio to record a new album.
The early part of Thursday’s show suffered from this experimentation, as Petty turned over center stage to other band members. Drummer Stan Lynch took a turn as lead vocalist and pianist Benmont Tench was featured on a boogie instrumental.
But Petty eventually reasserted himself-on his own terms. Even though the crowd was begging him to rock, the scrawny, straw-haired singer seemed to have a deeper purpose in mind.
“Listen to Her Heart” and “The Waiting” were transformed from anthems into spare, unadorned acoustic pieces for Petty and his guitar. Most impressively of all, “Rebels,” a stadium-sized foot-stomper, became a gut-wrenching folk ballad.
Petty hunched over his guitar, his body coiled, and pressed his face to the microphone: “I was born a rebel, down in Dixie/On a Sunday mornin’/Yeah with one foot in the grave/And one foot on the pedal, I was born to rebel.”
Often in the past the Heartbreakers would steamroll through the song as if it were a yahoo’s joy ride, but on Thursday Petty turned it into a soul search, a mixture of Southern pride and self-loathing.
On a night when Petty could have played it safe, he went for broke. Bravo.