Tom Petty the heartbroken
By Richard Cromelin
The Los Angeles Times — October 17, 2002
The indignant pop veteran pines for — and delivers — deeply felt rock at the Grand Olympic.
With their indictments of mediocrity in general and the music biz in particular, the most in-your-face songs on Tom Petty’s new album have suddenly turned the veteran rock musician into a sort of pop-culture vigilante, a longhaired Dirty Harry just begging a trembling record company weasel to make his day.
During his concert at the Grand Olympic Auditorium on Tuesday, Petty addressed this portrayal, which has been slapped on him since the release last week of “The Last DJ.”
“I’m not only mad,” Petty told the crowd in the auditorium, as well as the audience on a simultaneous radio broadcast and theater telecast. “There’s a lot of hope left in this world, and this song is supposed to symbolize that.”
That song, “Like a Diamond,” blended star-point guitar notes with the sweep of the 40-piece orchestra on hand for the occasion, but its relative lack of eventfulness made a strong case that madder is better.
The album’s title song and two of the three that follow it on the record are more gripping because of the indignation that fuels them. The other tune in that sequence, “Dreamville,” is an affecting companion, a heart-tugging reverie on a childhood in which love of rock is woven with love of family and youthful wonder.
For the concert-cum-telecast, Petty took the unusual course of performing the entire new album in order. That opening segment set a stirring tone, with a crowded cast of archetypes (rather than characters) in the songs, including the title DJ (he talks too much and won’t play what the boys upstairs want him to), the rock star whose music is drained of meaning by the business machinery, and the crass, greedy record executive.
Petty put on sunglasses to further caricature that evil businessman, but that was the only time his crusade seemed heavy-handed. The strokes may be broad, but Petty instills a real sense of betrayal into his narratives, making palpable the sense that something precious has indeed been lost.
This kind of broadside is usually lobbed from the streets, not from the belly of the beast, where Petty, an artist on the Warner Bros. label, resides. It’s too bad that he doesn’t really address the contradictions of dealing with this devil — something that might add a welcome layer of complexity to the issue.
The album — and therefore the show — becomes less focused and occasionally more generic as it proceeds, but Petty and his Heartbreakers remain one of the class acts of the classic-rock generation, and Tuesday they moved from swirling folk-rock to arena-rock detonations with deceptive ease.
This is the grand, heartfelt, gimmick-free rock whose demise Petty mourns, so he had added incentive Tuesday to make it sound good, and in that he never failed.