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Tom Petty mends weary hearts with classic rock ‘n’ roll
By Eric Rife
The Daily Aztec — Friday, November 15, 1991
Over their 15-year career, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have become somewhat of an institution.
From their early days as the prototypical bar band to their later evolution into a quasi-Byrds/Dylan sound, Petty and the Heartbreakers continue to maintain their legacy as the classic American rock band.
Although a giant forum may not be the coziest place to witness such a remarkable group, their performance Tuesday night at the Sports Arena demonstrated that the Heartbreakers are a durable and honest band; able to overcome the usual confides and corruptions of big time rock ‘n’ roll.
Playing in front of a massive oak treehouse, Petty set the stage for his own version of the world beyond the looking glass.
Opening the set with “King’s Highway” and “I Won’t Back Down,” the band got off to a slow, but admirable start that accelerated with every song.
From the opening refrains of older material like “You Got Lucky” and “Refugee” to the last high strung notes of “Running Down a Dream,” the Heartbreakers played with an intensity not normally left in a band that’s been around for so long.
“(Drummer) Stan (Lynch) wanted to see one,” Petty said in between songs.
“Uh oh,” he said as the door to the treehouse slowly opened. “It’s the psychedelic dragon. Act like nothing’s wrong.”
Descending the stairs to the stage, the dapper reptile presented Petty with a “special” harmonica under glass.
“I hate it when that happens,” Petty said, explaining his reluctance to use the dragon’s gift.
“Should I do it?” he asked as the audience roared in approval. “I could have permanent chromosome damage! I’d never be the same!
“I would never be a responsible adult again, but I’m gonna do it anyway. But remember! You told me to!“
With a slightly feigned hesitation, Petty blew into the magic harp, sending the band to a different astral plane with a cover of “Psychotic Reaction.”
Such theatrics are commonly blamed for the bastardization of rock, but Petty has a certain charm that enables him to pull off any stunt, no matter how grandiose or silly. Petty may qualify as a member of the rock “establishment” based solely on his longevity, but at no time does he forget those who put him where he is.
The commercial success that Petty has garnished over the last 10 years does have its drawbacks however. The Heartbreakers are a perfect example of a band whose original sound and image were changed irrevocably (albeit not neccessarily negatively) by MTV. Although their visual productions are among the most creative ever made, their stage presence seems to have evolved under the direction of a man behind a camera.
Aesthetics aside, Petty and the Heartbreakers are no slouchers. Perhaps their most admirable trait is their dedication to hard work. Petty is about as unpretenious an artist as you could hope for. His extremely mellow demeanor may seem boring to some, but his earnest, driving dedication has allowed him to progress where others have burned out.
Even though he may occasionally appear to be operating in a haze, Petty continues to beckon his audience to join him as he peers through a mystical window into a world where everything is possible.