Clubbing it: Raves for Petty and dynamite rock
By Ted Drozdowski
Meriden Morning Record and Journal — Saturday, November 24, 1979
A PETTY TOUR — Tom Petty is the best young singer/songwriter in American rock and roll.
Petty and the Heartbreakers, his four-man band, launched their first major U.S. tour on Nov. 11 with a show at the Palladium on New York City’s 14th Street that had enough raw energy to light up Manhattan, give or take a few Blimpie stands.
Petty is the most significant artist to rise on the popularity of New Wave, although his music is simply dynamite rock. His lyrics have the expressive elegance of an Elvis Costello without the strangulation of bitter anti-Semitism and woman-hatred. Petty also pens hooks twice as infectious as the big E’s and the Heartbreakers revved-up sound recalls the Stones at their rowdiest.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have had a cult following since late 1976, when “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers” was released on the Shelter label. The album just did not get any airplay anywhere, despite its amazing strength. Those lucky enough to stumble upon the new group discovered the freshest rock on the street brought to a focus by Petty’s pleading voice and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell’s hellfire lead guitar.
The album, relatively hard to find these days, has a depth lacing in most high-powered pop. “Breakdown,” “Fooled Again (I Don’t Like It),” and “Luna,” a beautifully depressing murky ballad, are the strongest tracks and bitterly honest to the last note.
In an effort to bolster the record’s sales, ABC sent a promotional recording of the band live at Paul’s Mall in Boston. The single-sides l.p., the only official live recording of T.P. and company, shows Petty and the Heartbreakers at their best — before an audience. A must for serious Petty devotees, the promo features “Fooled Again” and “Luna,” Chuck Berry’s “Thunderbird and Jaguar,” and Petty’s own “Dog on the Run,” some brutally fine jamming. Much harder to find than “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers,” the “Official Live ‘Leg” recording may be found by prospecting in only the best record shops of album house catalogs.
Although sales didn’t improve with the “Live ‘Leg,” ABC was undaunted and mounted a fairly heavy campaign to promote “You’re Gonna Get It,” the second commercial recording for the band released in 1978 just before the flick “FM.”
If you had the misfortune of seeing “FM,” totally beat except for Martin Mull as Eric Swan, you may remember the interview sequence with Petty and the recording’s title track. The movie failed, as did the release of “You’re Gonna Get It” as a single. Petty’s career also floundered.
“Damn the Torpedoes,” the new Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album, was released on Oct. 26 to a tidal wave of critical and industry acclaim as the group’s most polished, developed package. Although the stations around here haven’t really pounced on it, keep your ears peeled for “Refugee.” It’s T.P. and Heartbreakers at their best. Play it loud … louder!
The album, incidentally, is the Backstreet label’s first release and it’s got to go gold.
But, back to the concert …
The Palladium was a fitting place for the band to launch this tour, which will take throughout the states as a headliner and backup band for big-name acts. The concert hall is much like the Waterbury Palace, an intreped relic from a more tasteful period of the century.
Its high domed ceiling is aborned with a monstrous crystal chandelier and a series of hand-painted murals, a legacy of opera house days gone by. With two balconies and a small orchestra section, every seat in the house is worth the admission price.
The debut festivities were begun by the clams of swing, the Fabulous Poodles. The Poodles played a good set of their own stuff, including the demi-hit “Mirror Star.” The high points of the Poodles set were take-offs on traditional blues guitar, several done on a violin run through a voice box which merely sounded messy. However, they were quite able to warm up the audience, mostly die-hard Petty fans for intensive rock therapy.
Petty and Campbell stole the show, although Heartbreakers Benmont Tench on piano and organ, Stan Lynch on drums, and Ron Blair on bass all proved more than just competent. By the second number, “Fooled Again” again, much of the audience was on its feet and clapping spontaneously.
The set was an onslaught of Petty “hits,” all the really good tunes from the albums presented with viril enthusiasm. The band’s performance on “Saturday Night Live” the evening before was quite tame in comparison.
Without the benefit of studio technique, Petty’s voice is virtually unchanged. His soprano begs for attention, it tugs the ear for sympathy and gets understanding. His guitar playing, a Rickenbacker strangely enough, is virtually unnoticeable, which works to the band’s advantage and strengthens Petty’s prominence as a singer. His delivery is a cross of Dylan and Costello, but the sound is pure Tom Petty. He has the makings of a classic rock vocalist and if anything from the new album catches on he may become one.
Although the drumming, bass lines, and keyboards are in keeping with the band’s rock simplicity, Mike Campbell is a shimmering guitarist. He too has the stuff of which legends are made. On song aftr song, all of which had more solo meat than in the studio, Campbell played increasingly difficult leads. He has a feel for feedback and distortion, but doesn’t let mechanical gimmickry steal anything from talent. He’s quite fast, too, and doesn’t hesitate to adlib in reaction to the audience, a plus he shares with Petty.
When, not if, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers come to Connecticut, see them, see them, see them.