Petty Cashes In On O-rena Feeling In Stellar Fashion
By Parry Gettelman
Orlando Sentinel — May 22, 1995
There is some justice in the world. All those bombastic ’80s bands have disappeared, along with their levitating drum risers, scantily clad backup singers and echoing cries of “How you doin’ OrrrrlaaannDOOOOOOH!”
Meanwhile, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are still selling out the Orlando Arena. And the band’s show Saturday night was actually better than the last one in 1991.
Petty was an even more self-effacing frontman than before, and guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Howie Epstein went about their business with a customary lack of flash. But by the second song, Petty’s recent solo hit “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” it was clear the band had forged that vital link with the audience that makes a performance truly great.
For this tour, the Heartbreakers have dispensed with such distractions as video screens and giant trees. The set was simple – Oriental rugs covered the stage, and candlesticks, candelabras and a lava lamp decorated the equipment cases. The band could have been playing in a comfortable practice space, and that led to greater interaction.
Petty and Campbell, in particular, seemed to be playing off each other more. New drummer Steve Ferrone was terrific, especially on slower songs that require real feel and finesse, and utility man Scott Thurston played some wonderful harp and helped build the wall-of-guitars where required.
The Heartbreakers’ guitar tech, incidentally, has to be in the running for hardest-working man in show business. Campbell takes a whole arsenal of guitars on the road with him – and he actually uses every bit of firepower. Some guitarists just seem to like showing off their collection on stage, but Campbell gets highly distinctive sounds from his Les Pauls, his Rickenbackers and his Fenders. He’s obviously enthralled with all the possibilities you can get from six (or 12) strings on a beautiful piece of wood, and that fascination came through in every note he played.
Petty and the Heartbreakers brought out enough of the hits to please fans but also took the kinds of chances that show they’re musicians as well as rock ‘n’ roll stars. Campbell played a superhuman surf instrumental, “Diamond Head.” Petty dropped his voice into a surprising Mick Jagger-meets-Howlin’ Wolf baritone on a low-down, greasy cover of Muddy Waters’ “I Just Want to Make Love To You.” Petty also brought out “Girl on LSD,” the hilarious, catchy B-side to one of his recent singles, stating: “It’s not really that good, but I wrote it, and I’m going to sing it.”
And one of the best numbers of the night was the still unrecorded “Drivin’ Down to Georgia,” with its dramatic tempo changes.
More familiar numbers included “Refugee,” “American Girl,” “Yer So Bad,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin” and “Listen to Her Heart.” New hits included “You Wreck Me,” filled with punky energy, and “It’s Good to Be King,” given a mesmerizing extended ending. Petty played acoustic guitar, and Epstein sang lovely backing vocals on a stripped-down “The Waiting.” The band may have left out favorites to try some new things, but the fervor and length of the ovation at the end of the show proved no one went away disappointed.
Singer-guitarist-keyboardist Taj Mahal opened the bill with a fine performance that reached every blues lover in the audience, and probably made a few new converts.