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Tom Petty performs three intimate shows in NYC
By Beth Motschenbacher
The Oswegonian — April 29, 1999
On April 15, I trekked down to New York to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The show was the last of their three-night stand at Irving plaza, a small intimate venue that fit about 1,000 fans. The series of shows, along with several at the Fillmore West in San Francisco last month, served as warm-up to the full-scale tour planned for the summer. The Heartbreakers will be touring in support of their new album, “Echo,” which was released on April 13.
I arrived at 6:30 P.M. and there was a line wrapped around the block. Once inside, I waited two hours for the opening act, The Blind Boys of Alabama, who weren’t even mentioned on the bill, to start their set. Tom Petty himself came out to introduce The Blind Boys. The Blind Boys of Alabama are a blues-gospel oriented sextet that have been together and recording since 1937. They were all decked out in matching black suits and bright orange satin shirts. Two of them, who were actually blind and about 90-year-old, were escorted by their band mates on and off the stage, where they circulated through the crowd. At first, the audience seemed listless, and was simply anxious to hear Petty. But with each song. the Blind Boys played longer and better. By the end of their 45-minute set, they had everyone clapping and cheering along.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers came on stage at 10:15. They opened with raucous renditions of “Around and Around,” and “Jammin’ Me,” which got the crowd all hyped up. From then on, it was pure “Greatest Hits” material. They did “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” and “Breakdown” which was absolutely incredible. Mike Campbell, the Heartbreaker’s lead guitar player, fingered a flawless solo.
Tom exchanged pleasantries with the crowd, talking about how great it had been to be in New York all week and assuring everyone that the band had a lot more to play. They surprised everyone with several well-done covers, including J.J. Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze,” and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth.” For the next number, Petty asked the crowd to help him out with the words to a song from the “good old seventies,” in case he forgot. And although Petty didn’t need help with the words, the whole audience was singing along for the crowd-pleasing “Don’t Do Me Like That.”
Next came “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” and the anti-authority anthem, “I Won’t Back Down,” for which Petty strapped on his acoustic guitar, taking a break from the raw intensity of the rest of the songs. Campbell, along with Howie Epstein on bass, Benmont Tench on piano, and Brian Ferrone on drums were all clearly enjoying themselves. Petty just grinned through the whole show. The next section of songs was comprised of “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” and “It’s Good To Be King,” from Petty’s 1994 solo album, “Wildflowers.”
The three-hour set began to draw to a close when the band threw out another old favorite, “Even the Losers.” They then went into the second single released from “Echo,” “Room at the Top,” followed up with another new song, “I Don’t Wanna Fight.” After a brief trip backstage, Petty and the Heartbreakers returned for an encore, which was “You Wreck Me,” “Free Fallin’,” and a new song, “Free Girl Now,” which already sounds like a classic.