The Petty Archives

Critique: Tom Petty stages one of the best rock shows here in months
By Divina Infusino
The Milwaukee Journal - Tuesday, March 15, 1983

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' 100-minute show at the Arena Monday night left little doubt that this was one of the best major rock events to hit Milwaukee in many months.

Unlike his Alpine Valley performance in 1981, the Florida rock 'n' roller with an affection for Byrds-like folk harmonies exerted himself, trying to make the 5,033 in attendance feel involved with him and his music.

Such caliber of performance is what his fans and even mild admirers should expect from Petty, who has enjoyed the accolades not only of critics, but also of radio listeners and record buyers.

Petty and his five-piece band,m the Heartbreakers, play rock that still has a roll. Musically, his compositions are intense and emotional, without the histrionic overkill of heavy metal. His band, which includes Milwaukee native Howie Epstein on bass, conveys a balance of potency and taste. Lyrically, Petty is capable of depth and moments of insight.

All these qualities raise him well above the average rock star. But Monday night's performance, which started an hour behind schedule because of the delayed arrival of guitarist Mike Campbell, emphasized the difference between Petty and the person he is most frequently compared to, Bruce Springsteen.

A lithe blond, Petty flailed, jumped, and wriggled to rouse audience excitement. It worked. So did his voice -- an unusual blend of nasality and bite -- as it sliced a lyric on "Refugee," ruminated over the pain in "Woman in Love," or gasped with emotion on the brilliant "Here Comes My Girl."

Sometimes Petty's vocal tricks were obviously calculated, as in "Break Down." Often, the instrumental arrangements extended too long for drama's sake. In general, the show -- both in music and in Petty's movements -- sacrified sponteneity for staging.

These maneuvers helped maintain a certain level of excitement, but also freed Petty of the need to completely let down his guard with the audience. Springsteen has the knack of making audiences feel as if he is on the stage for them alone. Petty is still working on it. Until he picks up that knack, his shows -- even though a head above most of today's popular music -- will still fall short of their potential.

Because of the delay in Petty's show, Paul Carrack's Noise to Go with Nick Lowe played an elongated set that was rather ill-paced. For some reason, Lowe skipped some of his most notable songs, such as "What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding?" and "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass."

But even though the audience had difficulty relating to the group's understated stage manner, Lowe, Carrack and their crack band logged much better performances than in their November show, and proved that even terse pop songs can make vital musicial statements.