Petty’s Second Show Is a Real Gas
By Joel Selvin
The San Francisco Chronicle — January 13, 1997
Pepper spray fails to douse incendiary rock
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were steaming toward the close of a spectacular second night at the Fillmore Auditorium when, through no fault of their own, the whole thing blew up in an instant.
As the band played “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” the crowded dance floor suddenly cleared after somebody let loose with a canister of pepper spray.
The band left the stage. Everybody was coughing. Windows were opened and the bars served drinks on the house. The police arrested a suspect, dozens were treated by paramedics and after 45 minutes of confusion the fire department gave the OK for the show to resume.
Backstage, Bill Graham Presents president Gregg Perloff thanked Petty for his patience in a difficult situation.
“No problem,” Petty deadpanned. “It’s a gas.”
BURNING BACK ONSTAGE
Petty and company came back to burn through an incendiary 45 additional minutes, a blazing blitz of four songs — “You Wreck Me,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “It’s Good to Be King” and “Gloria” — guitarists Petty and Mike Campbell igniting each number with individual and tandem solos that stretched each song into a minor epic.
The incident was all the more regrettable because the band had settled into a rollicking groove for the second show of a historic 20-night run at the Fillmore Auditorium that opened the previous night. In just one night, the band appeared to have relaxed into the room, playing the kind of offhand brilliant rock rarely seen outside the confines of rehearsal halls and sound checks. Petty eschewed the foppish coffee-colored velvet suit he wore opening night for Army surplus and faded jeans — Fillmore garb — while a light show danced above the band.
Petty opened with some Little Richard. Campbell reeled off a reverb-heavy “Slaughter on 10th Avenue” a la the Ventures. Auxiliary guitarist Scott Thurston led the band through a piece of Stanley Brothers bluegrass, “Little Maggie.” Petty dipped into nuggets from his own box set such as the band’s very first recording, “On the Street,” recorded in 1973 in keyboardist Benmont Tench’s parents’ living room; and a Conway Twitty country weeper, “The Image of Me,” that the band originally recorded for “Southern Accents.” Petty also sang some Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson songs.
In between covers of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah Diddy,” Petty fired off charged-up ver sions of “Jammin’ Me,” the song Petty and Campbell wrote with Bob Dylan, and “Love Is a Long Road,” a number from “Wildflowers,” whose explosive opening recalls the Who.
ONE OF THE GREATS
It was one of rock music’s top outfits of the past 20 years, relaxed and doing what it does best. This band is so unpretentious, so effortless, it’s almost easy to overlook how great it is. And when Petty’s enormous catalog and consistent excellence are weighed, he has to be considered one of the greatest in the history of the music.
Now, after years of commercial success and the huge perfor mance venues that go with it, Petty has decided to return to his small-hall origins, in the process reconnecting with fans and avoiding the requisites of life on the road as a hockey rink headliner.
The band reached back into rock ‘n’ roll history, displaying an affinity for the blues and a love of the British Invasion sound in which the music flowered. Petty tossed off faithful renditions of songs by the Rolling Stones, the Zombies and Them. Campbell etched a perfect Eric Clapton impression Friday on “Little Girl” from the old John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers album. People talk about how Petty extrapolated the jangly folk-rock sound of the Byrds, but there’s plenty of Yardbirds in him, too.
At times during the Fillmore shows, particularly on “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” the band achieved Cinemascope proportions, with Campbell spinning out Pink Floyd grandiosity while Petty soloed explosively. On “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “It’s Good to Be King,” the pair explored realms of molten twin-guitar rock not customarily associated with their records.
Keyboardist Tench decorated the edges of the sound with uncommon grace. Along with bassist Howie Epstein and guitarist/ harmonica player Thurston, he also gave Petty a beautiful vocal blend for his plump, rich choruses.
Drummer Steve Ferrone spent considerable time playing from a smaller, modified drum set on the side of the stage, switching from a regulation kit in the center.
There were set lists written for both nights, although Petty spent most of opening night calling plays from the line of scrimmage.
Petty and his colleagues clearly intend the Fillmore run to be a special event, perhaps a personal creative watershed.
Jakob Dylan’s band, the Wallflowers, who currently have a hot record on radio, opened the shows this weekend, and other special guests are expected to serve as openers throughout the run. Jackson Browne was seen running around the hall Friday and Winona Ryder was in the crowd Saturday.
But onstage it was all Petty and the Heartbreakers, roaming far and wide. From fitting the Elvis Presley arrangement of “I Got a Woman” to country instrumentation, with Campbell plucking away at a mandolin, to playing a slowed- down, almost acoustic version of the band’s hit “I Won’t Back Down,” these musicians obviously want to use the Fillmore as a workshop.
What it will mean in the long run to Petty and his band, only time will tell. In the meantime, what is happening at the Fillmore is nothing less than rock ‘n’ roll at its best. And nothing less than the making of a significant piece of rock ‘n’ roll history.
“Rip It Up,” “Jammin’ Me,” “Shakin’ All Over,” “Diddy Wah Diddy,” “Walls,” “Slaughter on 10th Ave.,” “On the Street,” “Image of Me,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “The Best of Everything,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “I Want You Back Again,” “Little Maggie,” “Keepin’ Me Alive,” “Treat Me Nice,” “Believe What You Say,” “Parchman Farm,” “Love Is a Long Road,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “It’s Good to Be King,” “Gloria.”