He won’t back down
By Dan Tobin
The Tufts Daily — Thursday, April 6, 1995
“Hello. My name’s Tom Petty, and these are the Heartbreakers. We’ll be providing the musical entertainment for the rest of the evening.”
For a musical superstar to use such a minimal introduction for a concert demonstrates just how down-to-earth Tom Petty is. Dressed in back jeans, an untucked patterned shirt, and Chuck Taylors, Petty looked more like a college student than a 20-year veteran of the music business as he ripped through almost two hours of his greatest hits at Tuesday’s Boston Garden show. The set list was mostly predictable, but to leave out any of the songs he played would have been a crime.
Petty basically split his set into three different parts: medium paced rock songs like “I Won’t Back Down,” slow acoustic pieces like “Wildflowers,” and hard-hitting raucous numbers like “Refugee.” This helped focus intensity on the right places. He began the show by looking out at the crowd and just saying “yeah, baby,” and then kicked into a strong rendition of “Love Is a Long Road” from Full Moon Fever. This was a surprising opening number because of its relative obscurity, but it was a great way to start.
This was the kind of concert where every five minutes you’d say, “No, that was the best part,” because there were so many memorable moments. A light acoustic treatment of “Learning to Fly,” was just sweeter than normal, showcasing the beautiful melody and letting Benmont Tench’s piano work shine more prominently. Tench also was featured on a bluesy introduction to “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” Following this piano work, the piece sounded exactly the same as the studio cut. Exactly the same, that is, until the end where a three-minute extended jam elevated the song to a whole new level. This was first-rate stuff.
The crowd loved every move that Petty made. The second he walked to the left, the audience on the left would howl with joy. This love went both ways, though, because it seemed like Petty was really enjoying himself. He even gave the audience a special bonus — “I decided to throw in an extra one,” he said, and then apologized in advance if he screwed up. “I haven’t played this in a long time,” he joked and then moved into an unplugged version of “The Waiting.” It was much a faster version than usual and used a mandolin instead of electric guitar, turning a usually bland piece into the one of the highlights of the evening.
For the most part, the concert was a showcase of Tom Petty’s greatest hits. Songs like “Free Fallin’,” “Into the Great Wide Open,” “Listen To Her Heart,” and set-closing “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and the show-closing “American Girl” were straight ahead takes of the originals, yet they gained new fire in a live setting. And the songs off Wildflowers, the new album, were also impressive except for a disappointing version of “You Don’t Know How It Feels.”
The show was not without quirky choices, though. The Heartbreakers’ lead guitarist, Mike Campbell, got his turn in the spotlight and used this opportunity to let his fingers fly through a Dick Dale-inspired surf song that sounded straight out of Pulp Fiction. Petty tried some the Chicago blues in covering Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want To Make Love To You” on what would have been Muddy’s 80th birthday. He also unveiled a thrashing unrecorded song (well, as close as Tom Petty can get to thrash) called “Daydreamin’ Down to Georgia,” that changed intensity throughout, but built into a wild frenzy by the end.
The strangest song of the night, though, was earlier in the evening. “This is a song I wrote myself,” Petty announced as he started playing a laid back tune whose first line was “I was in love with a girl on marijuana.” With each new line, there was a new girl with a new drug, and afterwards, he teased the crowd for cheering at the “gratuitous drug references.” He then announced that he was completely sober for the show. Scattered applause.
“100 percent sober, but I’m high as a kite.” Huge ovation.
This was a show of pure music without the flash of trick lighting or giant inflatable toys. The stage was tastefully decorated in Oriental rugs and candles, and the more ornate visual spectacle was a large disco ball hanging from the center of the Garden. This let everyone concentrate more on the music, which is how concerts should be.
The only weak part was new drummer Steve Ferrone. The only band member who was not an original Heartbreaker, Ferrone thought he was at a different concert than everyone else. His drumming was too loud and forceful and wasn’t responsive enough to the other band members. If he had smacked the skins a little lighter, he would have blended better and not have stuck out among the seasoned musicians he flanked.
The other problem, of course, was that the show eventually ended. It should have gone on for another eight to ten hours. Most of Petty’s songs are easy to sing along to, and the crowd happily obliged, filling the air with ecstatic (yet off-key) voices. The audience, made up mostly of high schoolers, was throughly satisfied from beginning to end, and it really seemed like Tom Petty was happy, too. After his encore, while thanking everyone, he got his acoustic guitar back and played a final piece, the lullaby-ish “Alright For Now,” from Full Moon Fever. With lines like “I could not repay you for all you’ve done for me,” it was an emotional way to close and a touching way to thank the audience.
But we thank you, Mr. Petty.