First Night: Tom Petty
By James McNair
London Independent — Tuesday, April 20, 1999
Loyal audience appreciates the Petty moments
Tom Petty | Shepherd’s Bush Empire | London
With Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, and now Tom Petty back in the spotlight, we have witnessed the return of a trio of great American singer/songwriters. Like Waits and Springsteen, Petty is a pop-classicist who has no interest in chasing the musical zeitgeist. His new album Echo – his tenth with the Heartbreakers – name-checks Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, and musically, it is a comfortingly familiar melange of folk and blues-inflected Americana. Hardly revolutionary, then, but Petty is a link to those halcyon days before Jeremy Clarkson and Michael Bolton gave adult-oriented rock a bad name.
Last night’s gig was the first Petty and his band have played in the UK for seven years. With Mike Campbell (who co-wrote “The Boys of Summer” with Don Henley) and the session legends Benmont Tench and Howie Epstein in the firing line, there was no doubting the line-up’s credentials. Their heartbreaking days, however, are most definitely behind them.
Petty, now 48, took the stage grinning. In his three-quarter length coat and pinstripe trousers, he still looked dapper, and throughout his performance he sought eye contact with the front row.
During “Breakdown” he was relaxed enough to sing with one hand in his pocket, and he was clearly surprised just how well the audience remembered his Seventies hits. When he placed a lit cigarette between the strings on the headstock of his Telecaster, everybody cheered.
It was an anachronistic gesture which defined Petty as neatly as his Byrds harmonies, his vintage guitar collection, and the economic melodies which he refined to near perfection on his 1989 solo debut album, Full Moon Fever.
“I Won’t Back Down”, a track from that album, provided the first sing- along of the evening. Petty led on acoustic guitar and Tench added a typically inventive organ figure.
Elsewhere, much of the set – which included a number by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers – was heads down, no-nonsense rock and roll.
The Heartbreakers might best be described as a very good pub rock outfit, but you can be assured, if God had a local, they would be the house band.