POP MUSIC REVIEW : Heartbreakers Still Makin’ Some Noise
By Mike Boehm
The Los Angeles Times — November 11, 1991
If backing bands could sue stars for neglect, the Heartbreakers might have a case against Tom Petty.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers hasn’t truly existed on record since 1987’s “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough).” The current “Into the Great Wide Open” is a Heartbreakers album in name only. Like Petty’s 1989 solo album “Full Moon Fever,” it bears the production imprint of Petty’s fellow Traveling Wilbury Jeff Lynne, with all the fastidious sound-tailoring that implies.
The question on Saturday at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa was whether Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers could still play like Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
The answer, at the outset, seemed to be a dismaying no . Petty and his band–guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, drummer Stan Lynch and bassist Howie Epstein–had company in utility player Scott Thurston, who stayed busy at the back of the stage adding an extra layer of guitar, keyboards or backing vocals, the better to replicate the lush Lynne sound that dominated the first few songs.
When the harmony parts to “I Won’t Back Down” turned up soaked in the same silky sound-processing heard on the record, those looking for some ferocity and brawn instead of the Petty Light Orchestra might have felt like screaming, “Let me up, I’ve had enough.” As it turned out, that was the one album of Petty’s career completely ignored during the more than two-hour show.
Well, as the song goes, the waiting is the hardest part. Petty finally rewarded patience with the fifth song, “Out in the Cold,” a stormy, biting number from “Great Wide Open” that featured Tench and Campbell in full, unfettered flight.
From there, Petty, decked out in rock gypsy fashion with scarf, billowing shirt, black vest and headband, led the band through a strong, varied show. While frequently relaxed and played for fun, it rocked often and assuredly enough to answer any doubts as to whether Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers could still deliver the high, hard one.
Among the highlights were a lustrous “Here Comes My Girl,” powered by Tench’s chiming piano and sweetly wailing organ lines. Campbell asserted himself during the latter part of the show. His solos on “Refugee” and the powerful, Stones-force set-closer, “Running Down a Dream,” achieved torrential force without sacrificing melody. Petty looked toward early rock ‘n’ roll roots during the encore. His own “Built to Last” had a lovely, Drifters-style lilt. “Lonely Weekend,” an old rockabilly tune, was a loose, for-the-fun-of-it departure. He closed with “Makin’ Some Noise,” a look back at his origins as a rocker and the founding principles that still guide him.
That was a pretty good band Petty had up there making noise with him. Maybe he’ll even try recording an album with it some day.
Newcomer Chris Whitley and his three-man band opened with a half-hour of cinematic, big-screen blues. Malcolm Burn brushed in wide, arid landscapes on synthesizers, leaving it to Whitley to probe them restlessly with his slide guitar.
In a wounded voice that recalled the late Little Feat founder Lowell George, Whitley sang impressionistic, understated songs whose main current was a roiling sexuality, coming off as a shy but promising all-around talent who, with some luck, might be able to hit home with the audience that fell for Chris Isaak’s steamy roots-music.
The same bill plays tonight at the Forum and Tuesday at the San Diego Sports Arena.