Tom Petty And Professionalism At Mann
By Tom Moon
The Philadelphia Inquirer — August 16, 1989
More than anything else, last night’s rock and roll show at the Mann Music Center was a lesson in the pros and cons of professionalism.
The Replacements, notorious bad boys of the genre, began their opening set five minutes EARLY. Led by a coherent, emotive Paul Westerberg, the band crammed 12 songs into 40 minutes without shortchanging any of them. (Among the highlights: an ironic, twisted-smile treatment of the Rolling Stones’ ”Happy,” and the furiously determined “Alex Chilton.”)
If the Replacements’ surprisingly focused set was a tribute to the ”knuckle-under-and-work” ethic favored by so many young bands (and resisted by the Replacements for so long), then headliner Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ appearance was old-pro advice about how to keep punching the clock in interesting ways.
Flanked by a giant tomahawk, a piece of a spear, an old refrigerator, an oversized totem pole and other Native American iconography, the band played no-frills rock and roll by measuring its bursts of emotion, saving the big fire for the anthems that occupied the bottom half of the set list. In an almost apolegetic, low-key manner, the Heartbreakers covered plodding ballads like “Free Fallin” from Petty’s solo Full Moon Fever faithfully but without much fanfare. They re-created “The Waiting” with simple acoustic guitar textures.
No matter how slight, just about every gesture was greeted with thunderous applause. On “Breakdown,” a hit from his debut album, all Petty had to do was simply set up the rhythm – he didn’t even sing, the audience took care of that. By mixing familiar tunes with new material like the spare “Yer So Bad,” from Full Moon Fever, he kept his audience engaged, probably sold a few records, and varied the sonic range of the songs, introducing mandolin or Hammond organ where appropriate. Petty has lots of medium-tempo rockers in the book, but you couldn’t tell from this well-paced show.
And while his voice remained strong throughout, Petty clearly struggled with the high notes that lace “I Won’t Back Down.”
As the show went on, and guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench were each given solo segments, the onstage atmosphere changed. At the start, Petty seemed preoccupied with covering the full range of his repertoire, but soon he was playing the slow blues, covering Elvis Presley and the Clash, allowing his presentation to open up. This – and Campbell’s understated, compositional solos – helped soften some of the show’s planned, predictable edge, and gave Petty’s signature anthems, ”Refugee” most notable among them, fresh impact.