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Petty wows ’em in Irvine
By Renee Tawa
The Daily Titan — September 24, 1981
A few songs into his two-hour set at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, Tom Petty looked out at the 5,000 fans with reserved seats in the front and the 5,000 more fans camped on beach towels in the back and said to loud applause, “We finally made it out to Orange County.”
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, on their “Hard Promises” tour, sold-out Friday and Saturday, which is good news for Irvine Meadows promoters eager to present the amphitheater as an attractive alternative for Orange County fans tired of driving to Los Angeles for concerts.
But from CSUF, the one-half-hour drive to the grounds of Lion Country Safari, where the Amphitheater is situated, is not much shorter than the drive to Los Angeles.
Because of the poor set-up of the Amphitheater — most notably the long walk up to the unreserved seats and the sound system which at times produced loud, muddled music — Petty had to work extra-hard to win over the fans sitting on the lawn who were trying not to slip down the steep grassy incline they were packed on.
Fortunately, the sound improved after a 45-minute opening set by the Naughty Sweeties, during which most of the fans on the lawn napped. The group, which has performed several times at Cal State Fullerton, gave a generally lackluster performance until the end, when several people rushed in front of the stage to dance.
Petty is one of the country’s most critically acclaimed rock artists and didn’t really need an opening act. The audience was ready and able to sing along with him on many of his catchy hits such as “King’s Road,” “Woman in Love,” “Refugee,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” and “The Waiting.”
Petty worked well with his competent backup group, the Heartbreakers, and stalked around the stage in leather cowboy boots, keeping close eye contact with the crowd.
Petty is a good crowd pleaser, often encouraging fans to clap along with him. He lead them in the choruses of “Breakdown” and “I Got A Thing About You.”
He also encouraged whistles for guest performer Stevie Nicks when he fell over backwards after gazing at Nicks in her velvet leopard skin mini-dress with matching boots. Nicks has a strong, clear voice which complimented Tom Petty’s distinctive throaty vocals. “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” was delivered enthusiastically by both performers who looked like they were having a good time on stage. Nicks also joined Petty on the “Insider.”
Throughout the concert, Petty was relaxed and eager to please his fans. “It’s great being back in Southern California,” he said at one point. “We could play forever.”