The Petty Archives

Night life: Tom Petty stages strong show, doesn't leave fans heartbroken
By Tom Doherty
The Daily Iowan - Monday, March 14, 1983

Playing to a crowd of about 6,000 lusty teen devotees, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers brought two hours of high-velocity 1960s guitar rock to the Five Seasons Center Saturday night.

Petty delivered what will doubtless be remembered as one of the best shows of the season, proving that those who have written him off as a derivative, second-tier artist-performer may have had their perceptions warped by prolonged exposure to New Musical Express and Face magazine.

Opening for Petty were Paul Carrack and Nick Lowe, both stalwarts of the British New Wave scene and both presumably at loose ends in their respective careers. The Carrack-Lowe union seems to be a temporary relationship of convenience, for the only thing they have in common is that neither has enough star power to draw on his own. 

 The band they've put together -- Carrack on keyboards, Lowe playing the half-dozen chords he knows on rhythm, and former Rumour member Martin Belmont on lead -- is quite good, and each has an impressive backing of first-rate material to fill out a gig.

Lowe, the self-styled Jesus of Cool who specializes in wry pure pop, performed such tender romantic ditties as "Stick It Where The Sun Don't Shine," "Switchboard Susan" and "Cracking Up," while Carrack had his time in the spotlight with his Squeeze MTV favorites "Tempted" and "I Need You," but his Top 10 hit with Ace, "How Long Has This Been Going On?"

A performer of Lowe's caliber doesn't belong on the bottom half of a bill, but so far his sardonic stylings have kept him out of the mainstream. Only when the AM audience misses the joke, as in his only American hit "Cruel to Be Kind," does he go over the top.

Still, the combination of recognizable material and the sizzling lead playing of Belmont made the Carrack-Lowe opening a tough act to follow, especially with their strong finish, Lowe's "I Knew Your Wife When She Used To Rock 'n' Roll." 

 Appropriately, the intermission music was from Neil Young's Trans. One got the impression that many of the people in the arena old enough to purchase beer went to Petty on the rebound after Young withdrew from the Carver-Hawkeye show.

Petty has never won the hip critical response that bands with Mohawks and British accents can count on: His clean, uncluttered music has such obvious roots in the cascading electric guitar sound of mid-1960s groups like the Byrds that Petty is seldom considered anything more than a retrograde, if above-averaged, AM presence. The fact that his singing voice is pure Roger McGuinn (circa Younger than Yesterday) hasn't enhanced his reputation for originality, either.

Petty is currently touring to support his latest and most accomplished album, Long After Dark, an aural masterpiece produced by Jimmy Iovine. The Heartbreakers -- Mike Campbell on lead, Benmont Tench on keyboards, Howie Epstein on bass and percussion by Phil Jones and drummer Stan Lynch -- are clearly at the peak of their powers, and Petty's songwriting has never been better. In concert, they were tremendous. 

 Right from the opener -- "One Story Town," from the new album -- Petty and company achieved a level of surging intensity they maintained consistently throughout the evening. Their performance was so uniformly excellent that there were no obvious crescendos, though versions of FM perennials like "Breakdown," "Refugee," and "Don't Do Me Like That" and the instant classic "You Got Lucky" were especially well-received.

As a showman, Petty proved surprisingly adroit, expertly working the crowd during "The Waiting" and milking his cover versions of the McCoys's "Hang on Sloopy" and Otis Day and the Knights' "Shout" for every bit of good-humored excitement they were worth.

"Deliver Me" and "Straight Into Darkness" rang out clear -- the sonic power and lyrical optimism of these tunes particularly American. It's probably no accident that Petty has taken to Western vests, Sergio Leone-like videos, and trumpeting his group as "from the United States of America." He clearly takes his role as culture hero to heart.

Not the least of the virtues of the Petty show was the competence with which it was staged. Petty's road crew and the staff at the Five Seasons Center mounted a splendid show -- lighting and sound were excellent, and, amazingly, this was one rock show that started on time.