Petty And Lone Justice Home Again At Forum
By Robert Hilburn
The Los Angeles Times — August 3, 1985
Tom Petty and Lone Justice both had something to prove in their homecoming performances Thursday night at the sold-out Forum. Only Lone Justice fully succeeded.
Petty and his augmented Heartbreakers band played relatively long (nearly two hours) and most definitely hard in their first local appearance in two years.
And there were glorious moments as they reprised many of the inspiring anthems–from the opening “American Girl” through “Refugee”–that established Petty a few years ago as one of the most popular and respected figures in American rock.
For all its crowd-pleasing vigor, however, the concert failed to resolve a problem that has been nagging Petty ever since his hugely successful “Damn the Torpedoes” album in 1979: the suspicion that this slender, Florida-born rocker has peaked.
That view is supported by the sales charts. None of Petty’s post-“Torpedoes” LPs, including the current “Southern Accents,” have shown the commercial punch of that collection. But the suggestion of decline is refuted by his post-“Torpedoes” music itself–at least most of it.
While much of the “Hard Promises” and, especially, “Long After Dark” albums did sound similar to Petty’s earlier work, there was an increased subtlety and sophistication in Petty’s lyrics, which are chiefly uplifting expressions about innocence and desire.
The problem is that sophistication isn’t what much of Petty’s “Torpedoes” audience wanted. They were eager for more of the hard-edged, ringing-guitar rockers. So, here was a man who was getting better as a writer–yet finding a large part of his audience slipping away. That dilemma apparently confused Petty, who spent several agonizing months putting “Southern Accents” together.
The result was a schizophrenic package in which Petty dug deep into his Southern background for some thoughtful, endearing songs about the struggle to achieve your dreams. So far so good. But Petty also worried about restoring his commercial momentum and overcoming the criticism that his music was sounding too much alike.
Working with Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, who guested on guitar on a few numbers Thursday, Petty came up with some psychedelic and horn-accented touches in the album. While the songs did introduce new strains musically, they lacked the imagination and purpose of his best work.
The Forum show was as schizophrenic as the album.
The best songs from “Southern Accents”–including the title track and “The Best of Everything”–defied you to think this man isn’t growing as a writer. He sang them with an intimacy that made them the highlights of the evening.
However, the other new songs–including “It Ain’t Nothin’ to Me” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More”–seemed disturbingly insignificant. Because of this conflict, the “Southern Accents” material failed to center the show. This left the old numbers as the dominant element of the evening, which gave the show a definite “oldies” feel at times.
The show had the appearance of newness, with the quintet expanded to include three horn players and two female backup singers, but they seemed window dressing.
The Heartbreakers tour continues with shows Sunday at the Pacific Amphitheatre, Tuesday and Wednesday at the Wiltern Theatre and Friday at the San Diego Sports Arena, but Petty must already be looking to the future.
Every album is crucial in the fast-changing world of rock, but Petty’s next one seems especially important. The best moments of Thursday’s concert demonstrated that Petty is still a strong talent but needs to listen more to his heart.
Lone Justice, the highly-regarded country-flavored rock band featuring lead singer Maria McKee, returned home needing to prove that it deserves the enormous critical praise it’s received in recent months. The group, one of the most promising Los Angeles bands in years, reportedly ran into indifference and even some rudeness when opening early in the year for U2, but the word was that the band had won much more fan support on the Petty tour.
That was certainly the case at the Forum. Lone Justice, which was still playing clubs around town in January, has made the transition to arenas nicely. The band maintains a free, zesty spirit that allows it to alter the arrangements of the songs from its debut album. McKee’s vocals–the centerpiece of the music– retain their fresh, honest edge, and she has become a spunkier performer, dancing about the stage with a healthy, engaging spirit. The confidence and experience of these shows should make the group an even more powerful attraction when it returns to smaller venues for its own shows.