Tom Petty’s Great Concert Is Wide Open To Surprises
By Gene Stout
Seattle Post-Intelligencer — Thursday, November 21, 1991
“The waiting is the hardest part,” laments Tom Petty in one of his songs.
But there was no waiting last night at the Seattle Center Coliseum, where Petty and his band, the Heartbreakers, showed up promptly at 9 p.m. and played a long, surprise-filled set that spanned a 15-year career.
There was no sense the group was rushing things, however. The show was beautifully paced, with plenty of built-in pauses that allowed the audience to savor Petty’s fine vocals and easy-going banter.
Petty started with “King’s Highway” and “Too Good to Be True,” two songs from the group’s fine new album, “Into the Great Wide Open.”
Wearing faded jeans, suede jacket and bandana, Petty led keyboardist Benmont Tench, guitarist Mike Campbell, bassist Howie Epstein and drummer Stan Lynch through a set that focused on new songs like “Free Fallin”‘ and “Learning to Fly.”
Providing an eyeful was the elaborate, odd-looking stage set, which featured a giant, gnarled tree trunk with a staircase and doors, chandeliers, an old trunk and a suit of armor.
The set played a big role in the first hour when a tuxedoed man in a lizard mask strolled down the stairs and delivered a “psychedelic” harmonica to Petty on a serving dish.
After joking that the harmonica might actually be something to smoke, Petty and the band kicked off a gleeful version of the Count Five classic, “Psychotic Reaction,” with drummer Stan Lynch on vocals and Tench on keyboards.
Tench and Campbell, a talented pair whose musical endeavors extend well beyond the Heartbreakers, offered excellent solos midway through the show. Tench played rousing boogie-woogie piano, while Campbell came forward with an ethereal guitar solo.
At one point Petty pulled a trademark top hat from a trunk for a powerful version of “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” The surprise came when men in suits wearing the masks of past presidents began chasing Petty around the stage. Petty fought back with a peace sign, providing some comic symbolism.
Despite all the props and elaborate staging, Petty insisted his entourage was just a small-time operation. “I want you to know we’re not brought to you by a soft drink company,” he said in an obvious dig at corporate-sponsored rock tours.
The second half of the show included an acoustic set of old hits, plus a moving version of Van Morrison’s “I’m Tired, Joey Boy,” dedicated to “Magic” Johnson. The show, including encores, ended after 11 p.m.
Opening act Chris Whitley performed several excellent blues-based songs on a selection of vintage National steel guitars. But his backup band only muddied the sound.