Petty Manages Mix Of Old And New
By Roger Catlin
Hartford Courant — June 30, 1999
The concert burden of a rock star with any longevity is to balance in concert the oldies fans expect with the new work he really wants to present.
The task for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is even more difficult, as the affable blond star admitted early in his storm-defying show at Hartford’s Meadows Music Theatre on Tuesday.
“I’ve got so many songs to play for you tonight — so many,” he said.
Indeed, the sheer number of his memorable songs can be seen in the songs he didn’t have time to perform: from “I Need to Know” and “Refugee” to “Learning to Fly” and “Into the Great Wide Open.”
Still, a lot of the performance seemed, at first as predictably programmed as any FM rock block weekend, with note perfect renditions of “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and “Don’t Do Me Like That.”
Even the handful of songs from the new album “Echo” seemed to be the most simple, easily digestible ones — and not, for example, the epic title song.
But there did come some unexpected gems: an acoustic, deliberate “I Won’t Back Down” followed by the early “Listen to Her Heart.” Later, a similarly low-key “Walls” led to a fine version of the new “Room at the Top.”
It helped that the Heartbreakers are such a good band. The show took off, too, when the band extended what would otherwise be throwaway numbers like “It’s Good to Be King” into intricate guitar workouts.
A lot of this is thanks to lead guitarist Mike Campbell, who not only got to be featured in a surf medley spotlight that melded “Apache” to Neil Young’s “Hurricane,” but got to sing his own new song, “I Don’t Wanna Fight.”
As usual, Petty, 45, brought a hugely fanciful set, with smoking, ornate lanterns extending out above the seats and lots of Persian rugs, throw pillows and stained glass patterns on the psychedelic stage. The audience was just as surprising, though, with a large population of fans in their 20s, who responded best to things like “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.”
Petty also brought a top flight opening act in Lucinda Williams. In her first Connecticut performance in years, she set the stage with the suicide song of “Pineola” and effortlessly drew the crowd into her superbly written songs, so very well sung.
Because of the large venue, she and her strong band tended toward the rocking songs more than the moody ones, but she came out a winner nonetheless.