Petty Gets Cozy For 7-Night Stand
By Neva Chonin
The San Francisco Chronicle — March 9, 1999
Heartbreakers, fans in Fillmore lovefest
The opening concert of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ sold- out, seven-night stand at the Fillmore seemed like a giant high school dance, where everyone knew every word to nearly every song in the band’s repertoire. As the lights dimmed for the opening act at Sunday’s show, a disheveled figure in an untucked shirt and black leather vest schlepped to the microphone. “Um, hi, how ya doin’?” Petty said, grinning at the packed floor. “I’ll be back in a li’l while. Right now, I just want to introduce you to one of the world’s greatest singer-songwriters.” Opener Lucinda Williams made her appearance, and the evening’s headliner trotted off to a wave of applause. Later, Williams’ band joined the crowd watching Petty’s show. It was that kind of night.
Since releasing the first Heartbreakers album in 1976, the Los Angeles-based rocker has boasted one of his strongest followings in the Bay Area, where his brand of boogie-based roots rock strikes a neat balance that attracts both back- to-basics purists and those who live for the next onstage jam.
Three years have passed since Petty’s previous full-length release with the Heartbreakers, “She’s the One,” and two since his last series of concerts at the Fillmore.
Fans were hankering for new material, and they weren’t disappointed. The Heartbreakers — Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Howie Epstein and drummer Steve Ferrone — premiered a selection of songs from their upcoming album, “Echo” (due next month), including “Swingin’ ” and the first single, “Free Girl Now.” Petty also gave a crash course in rock ‘n’ roll history. After opening with Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around,” he went on to scatter other classic R&B and rockabilly samplings through the set, from Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah Diddy” to a note- perfect rendition of the vintage instrumental “Telstar.” But mostly the Heartbreakers just noodled and jammed through favorites from their two-decade repertoire. “I Won’t Back Down,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” the Byrds-inspired “American Girl” and the spare, acoustic “Angel Dream” were all given lengthy workouts. On “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” the audience gleefully provided the repeated “Let’s roll another joint” refrain while a small cloud of smoke wafted toward the ceiling.
The band members were as ebullient as their fans, trading quips and guitar licks, chatting and improvising. No pretense of cool here. The collective euphoria deflated long enough for Petty to deliver the Delmore Brothers’ mournful “Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar” and to dedicate the somber “Walls” to the late director Stanley Kubrick. “Sometimes when you’re writing a song, it’s like an orgasm,” Petty said at one point, pondering the creative process. “You don’t really know what you’re doing.” And sometimes you do. During a marathon rendition of Them’s “Gloria,” Petty digressed from the song lyrics to spin his own wayward, spoken-word yarn about pursuing a less-than-interested love interest. “Get over it, Tom!” a voice in the crowd finally roared. And he did, laughing mischievously as he wrapped up the story (in which he finally gets the girl — sort of), then wound the song back around to its climactic “G-L-O-R-I-A” chant. Rock stars don’t usually take their cues from the peanut gallery, but it was just that kind of night.