Pop Music Review: Tom Petty Presents an Artistry All His Own
By Chris Willman
The Los Angeles Times — March 3, 1990
Rock summit: Though he was joined by Springsteen and Dylan at the Forum, the veteran rocker wasn’t overmatched.
Tom Petty has arrived at that summit of stardom where, when joined in encore Thursday at the Forum by what in rock terms amounts to a visitation from the gods–Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen–he didn’t seem outranked. This, as far as the crowd was concerned, was a meeting of equals.
It’s the characteristics he shares with both those now-contemporaries which make him, in turn, a unique figure. Petty is like Springsteen in his eagerness to please a crowd, sociably playing almost all the favorites with a very tight, vigorous band–the Heartbreakers, of course–and coddling them with compliments and sing-alongs.
But he’s much more hidden a personality than Springsteen, which puts him more in Dylan’s camp. If his songs often suggest vulnerability, weariness or a sad, haunted quality, there is little hint of that in the bemused public persona. He’s about as guarded as you can get while still being a multi-platinum Pop Populist.
Petty’s cool, heavy-lidded countenance is all his own, and if you don’t ever feel you get to know what he’s like over the course of a concert, you do know you’re seeing someone who’s emerged as an original through all his influences. And you do get your money’s worth. Thursday’s show included the bulk of the greatest hits of Petty and the Heartbreakers, as well as the bulk of his latest, biggest-selling and perhaps best album, “Full Moon Fever,” a record that brings up all the sad and ambiguous feelings that he apparently feels no need to expound upon in the happy-go-lucky concert atmosphere.
The show hasn’t changed a great deal since the tour came through last summer, but for one important factor: Petty and company concentrate far more on the latest album this time through. Not that it could have been a very hard a decision to make; sales and airplay of “Fever” have taken off into the stratosphere since then, not to mention the two Grammy nominations.
In any case, all eight selections were wise choices, from “Free Fallin” with its post-breakup evocation of simultaneous relief and panic, one of the great singles of recent times–to the equally ambiguous but more long-faced “Face in the Crowd.”
Amid the predictability of the crowd sing on “Break Down” or the now-standard acoustic opening of “The Waiting,” there were also nice surprises–like drummer Stan Lynch’s lead vocal on Chuck Berry’s “Down the Road a Piece,” a well-chosen rendition of Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air,” guitar ace Mike Campbell’s wild hammered dulcimer introduction to “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” or that same song’s strobe-lit jaunt by the normally stationary suit of armor at stage left.
As for those stellar visitations? Excitement-generating, sure, but in actuality not up to the level of the preceding set. Recalling the spontaneous days of the Dylan/Petty tour a few years back, Dylan came out to sing “Rainy Day Women,” then followed with another rocker that the ever-ready Heartbreakers seemed not to know but played along with anyhow, provoking some laughs both on and off stage.
Springsteen, looking rather Bono-esque with slicked-back hair, ponytail, stinger beard and earring, then emerged to sing his perennial cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelin’ Band,” followed by a loose duet with Petty on the Animals’ “I’m Cryin’.” There was no attempt at a Traveling Wilburys-style group sing, despite the presence backstage of Jeff Lynne.
As for the question of what ever happened to Petty’s “Southern Accents”-era sideburns, the answer was made clear: He donated them to this tour’s opening act, flower-child revivalist Lenny Kravitz.
The wildly talented up-and-comer opened with a well-received set whose earnest, energetic hippie-dippyness skirted being both silly and electrifying–but leaning more often, happily, toward the latter. He tends more toward psychedelic rock than R&B, but his soul ballad, “Precious Love,” was knockout enough to send Prince and D’Arby running for cover.
Petty and Kravitz are set to do it again tonight at the Pacific Amphitheatre.