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By Pamela White
The Minnesota Daily — Wednesday, August 19, 1981
After the first few numbers, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers laid down the tone: they were going to deliver a down-to-earth concert. There would be no flash, no theatrics, no unnecessary embellishments — just a lot of straightforward rock ‘n’ roll.
It could have been a dangerous approach. The Heartbreakers have had so many radio hits in the last few years that a concert featuring one radio blockbuster after another could have been something of a letdown to the 16,000 or so people who showed up to hear their idol. But the music, despite its familiarity, carried the crowd through two hours of energetic euphoria. It was a quality concert that went on low gear to high solely on the strength of the music, which is all most people would want anyway. If the concert was a little heavy on predictability, it was fun as well.
Another danger was that Met Center, the world’s largest sound sauna, could have claim Petty’s music, which depends heavily on a clean sound and clear articulation. The band overcame this problem neatly by sacrificing a bit of volume — a lesson that the opening band could do well to learn from.
Of course the Heartbreakers played all the biggest hits: “Refugee,” “Listen To Her Heart,” “Here Comes My Girl,” “Breakdown,” and “Thing About You.” What kept the concert from dying of predictability was the low-key manner in which the band played these numbers. They could have playing back in the old Longhorn for their lack of pretentiousness. Rather than let a star-spangled songlist carry them along, they simply gave each number all they had. Equally appealing was their playfulness and good humour on stage. Petty is an excellent frontman, and he didn’t try to be any more than just that. Consequently, the Heartbreakers came across as a cohesive, tight band.
Along with the hits, the Heartbreakers performed tunes from the recent Hard Promises. New Heartbreaker Phil Jones on percussion and drummer Stan Lynch augmented “Nightwatchman”‘s funky groove with a tight, in tandem introduction. “Woman In Love” suffered a bit from the diminished volume, as Mike Campbell’s driving guitar lead got lost in the sound mix. These latter songs show Petty’s rocker influences a little more than the earlier hits. Most of the material from Hard Promises points to both a new raggedness and a maturing sensibility.
The rawness of this newer stuff fit well with the surprise covers; the Heartbreakers played the Animals’ “Don’t Bring Me Down,” the Isley’s “Shout,” Elvis “Good Love,” the country classic, “Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” and “Louie, Louie.” Bassist Ron Blair’s contribution came through on these rockers, while Benmont Tench’s keyboards, though good when audible, suffered from distortion.
When the Heartbreakers left the stage the audience let out a wild roar that brought the band back for three encores. They closed with “Even the Losers.”
The audience’s response all evening showed that Petty and the Heartbreakers are more than just popular. Given the occasional fatigue the rock ‘n’ roll genre has shown in the last 30 years, Petty’s rejuvenation of straight, gimmick-free rock is no small feat.