Full Speed Ahead for Tom Petty
By Jane Scott
Cleveland Plain Dealer — November 21, 1979
“I’m high on antibiotics tonight,” lead singer Tom Petty apologized to the Palace audience Saturday night.
Well, that made it even. The sell-out crowd was getting high on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ hard-driving and exuberant songs.
True, Petty’s voice was a little rougher and raspier than usual (the group canceled its Wednesday Boston gig because of his sore throat) but somehow Petty sounded more interesting because of it.
Petty is that skinny blond from Gainesville, Fla., with blunt bangs, high cheek bones, prominent teeth, a red kerchief around his neck, a fast-moving guitar and traveling feet.
He stalked around the stage like a hunter, moved up toward the front at times, sat on an amp, and at the end, jumped high in the air and twirled around a dozen times. Yet his movements never distracted from the music.
People call the Petty partners new wave. Fair enough. But the music is much more. The Petty pattern is hard rock, softer songs with bouncy melodies, catchy toe-tappers, a touch of the blues and just plain good jamming.
True, I wish I could have heard more of Benmont Tench’s ripply piano and Mike Campbell’s sweet guitar licks.
Talky-type ballads such as “Here Comes My Girl,” were deftly sandwiched in between such rockers as “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Even the Losers.” These were from the band’s new Backstreet LP, “Damn the Torpedoes,” which jumped 84 notches on Billboard’s chart in one week.
But it was an oldie, “Breakdown,” which gave Petty a chance to act, screeching, shaking his head furiously and gritting his teeth. And it brought a tasteful light show, with tunnels of light spotlighting drummer Stan Lynch, then others in the quintet.
Petty’s rapport with the audience is better than ever.
“I called my mom on the phone tonight. She said, ‘Tom, did you ever get a job?’ I said that I’m playing and singing with this band. ‘Where are you?’ she asked. So I said I was in Cleveland, the rock ‘n’ roll capital of the world!”
Try and top that.
“Our bass player, Ron Blair, is the only one without a sore throat and he doesn’t sing a lick in the show,” Petty said later.
But regardless of health, it was full speed ahead, and the audience loved it.
There were only two problems. The music was too loud for the Palace with its fine acoustics. The Palace ought to put out a national ad telling bands that music doesn’t need to be loud. It probably couldn’t afford it, though. It can’t even afford a drinking fountain.
And an hour before the show, Petty demanded that the tables in front be scrapped for all-row seating, ushers reported. But that meant that table ticket-holders had no assigned seats. Some bad-natured shoving and shouting erupted when fans tried to return to their previous seats after intermission.
The show opened with some good, fun-filled music by an English group called the Fabulous Poodles.
The Poodles, based in London, is that band with a lead singer-guitarist (Tony de Muer) with pink-rimmed glasses; a violinist (Bobby Valentino) who is the spit ‘n’ image of Clark Gable, a sappy-looking drummer (Bryn. B. Burrows) and a bassist (Ritchie Robertson) who used to sell encyclopedias.
The quartet scored with songs from its Epic “Think Pink” LP, but its best bit was “Request Time.”