ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 21, 1991
By Steve Newton
“Oh, those fabulous ’70s,” intoned Tom Petty halfway through his Monday-night (November 18) show at the Coliseum. The Florida native was catching his breath between a couple of his early tunes, “Here Comes My Girl” and “Breakdown”, but you couldn’t really tell if he was being facetious or not about the decade that spawned some of his best work—and also saw him file for bankruptcy.
Since ’70s-bashing is such a popular pastime among the more snobbish of armchair music critics, probably not. Petty’s no snob; he’s just a regular guy with a knack for great rock songwriting and a band that won’t quit.
On a stage cluttered with various chandeliers and candelabra, painted Roman pillars, an old trunk—and even a full suit of knight’s armour—Petty and his Heartbreakers staked out their rock ’n’ roll playground, which included a “psychedelic dragon” that came down from a big tree to offer Petty a harmonica on a fancy plate.
“I’m not really sure I should blow into the psychedelic harmonica,” teased Petty. “I might cease to function as an ordinary adult.” But he did it anyway. Whatta guy.
Throughout the show, Petty’s regular-guy persona was strengthened by his request that the crowd support small business and his anti-corporate, Neil Young-style claim that “We aren’t brought to you by anybody.”
And he really got the audience on his side during “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, when he was chased around the strobe-lit stage by a pack of suits wearing masks of famous Yankee politicians, before turning the tables and making them run for cover with a great big peace symbol. (The proliferation of Amnesty International info booths inside the rink added to the impression that Petty’s heart was in the right place, as did the dedication of an inspiring Van Morrison tune to AIDS-stricken basketball star Magic Johnson.)
Good intentions aside, it helps when you’ve got sterling bandmates like the Heartbreakers, in particular guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench. One of rock’s most underrated players, Campbell was Mr. Tasty on a number of guitars and mandolins, and when Petty asked Tench to give him a “boogie-woogie blessing”, his buddy since the age of 10 made like the High Priest of Honky-Tonk.
With guys like that behind him, no wonder Petty’s so cool and collected on-stage.