ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 11, 1995
Some rock bands have a magical way of winning over a crowd straightaway, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are a prime example. I saw them do it back in ’78 at the Commodore on the You’re Gonna Get It tour, and they did it again on Saturday (May 6) at the nearly sold-out Coliseum.
This time it was the stripped-down clamour of “Love Is a Long Road” that got things going, with Everyman vocalist Petty casually rambling over to the front of the stage in low-rent runners to anoint the masses with a hoist of his ever-ready Telecaster. The fact that the stage was strewn with Persian rugs and rows of flickering candles helped create a homey, let’s-hang vibe, and by the time Petty got around to his second tune, many fans had already taken its “let’s roll another joint” idea one smoky step further.
The Heartbreakers followed “You Don’t Know How It Feels” with one of their earliest tunes, “Listen to Her Heart”, instilling that jangly rocker with the same bouncy bluster I recall cheering for 17 years ago. The band lineup has varied somewhat since then, the most noteworthy change being original drummer Stan Lynch’s replacement by session ace Steve Ferrone, who also plays on the current Petty disc, Wildflowers. Although I must admit to a real fondness for the workmanlike thump and clatter that heavy hitter Lynch conveyed over the years, Ferrone’s well-practised and precise drumming left little to beef about.
The instrumental star of Petty’s universe has always been lead guitarist Mike Campbell, who pulled out all the stops on a wild twang-o-rama version of the Ventures’ 1964 surf classic, “Diamond Head”. He even used a pink Fender Mustang for added authenticity and tossed in a few bars of the James Bond theme for extra coolness.
Petty also snuck selections by Chuck Berry and J.J. Cale into the mix, which he likely does to break up the monotony of performing his own compositions night after night. I would have preferred it if he’d included the sadly missed “Breakdown”, “I Need to Know”, or “Don’t Do Me Like That”, but, as usual, Petty forgot to call and put me in charge of the show’s set list.
He did save the best for next to last, though, and the tactic of flicking the houselights on during the penultimate “American Girl” helped to further undermine any audience/performer partitions that might have held during the Heartbreakers’ two-hour barrage of cannonball rock.