The Petty Archives

Music Review: Replacements booted for polished Petty
By Scott Mervis
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Friday, August 25, 1989

In an industry gone mad, it only figures that the "Band of the '80s" (supposedly) would get a crummy opening slot and get booted off the stage after 40 minutes.

That band is The Replacements, and they opened for Tom Petty last night at the A.J. Palumbo Center. The unusual bill offered a study in contrasts of two great bands and two great songwriters.

The Replacements' Paul Westerburg draws on all the schlock rock of the mid-'70s (some of Petty's included), but the pop sensibilities are replaced with nastiness and attitude. The live performances are sloppy fun, with Westerburg's mood constantly shifting between passion and hopelessness.

Obviously, Westerburg isn't taking opening for Petty very seriously. Unlike The Replacements' relatively tight show here a few months ago, last night they were, as a rapper might say, "dissin'" the game.

After moving version of songs like "Little Mascara" and "Left of the Dial," Westerburg absently led the band into a run of aborted cover songs. He sang one line of the Stones' "Happy," and flirted with the blues classic, "Train Kept A Rollin'."

It looked like the set would grind to an ugly halt, until the band launched into a complete and killer rendition of The Who's "I Can See For Miles," finally winning over the crowd. That done, The Replacements seemed to be waved off the stage abruptly, at which point Westerburg left with, "There's a party on the 19th floor." It's a good thing they thrive on desperation.

Sloppy is nowhere in the Heartbreakers' vocabulary. Man for man, the band is near perfect. And certainly more perfect than original. Even at this stage in their career, their influences sometimes overwhelm them.

The most obvious is The Byrds, whom Petty acknowledged by opening the set with a cover of Roger McGuinn's "Feel A Whole Lot Better." Interestingly, his second song, the Byrds-y "American Girl," was once recorded by McGuinn.

You could also tell that Petty has spent a lot of time lately with an old friend of McGuinn's, Bob Dylan. Petty's delivery last night seemed more like Dylan's than usual (and for that matter, more like Dylan than Dylan's).

But take nothing away from Petty -- somehow he pulls it all together into his own thing. With at last another hit album, "Full Moon Fever," Petty seemed to be running on all cylinders.

The show was a lovefest between Petty and the packed house, and I'm not one for crowd paranoia, but I half expected someone to leap from the bleachers in a cathartic fit. Hit followed hit, and it seemed one was more powerful than the next. Behind Petty's threatening vocals, The Heartbreakers were masterful at driving simple songs like "Don't Come Around Here No More" or the new "Free Fallin'," which was greeted like a classic.

Even more amazing was that after interminable playings on FM radio, Petty could have you on the edge of your seat on "Refugee." If he can bring life into that old war horse, he hasn't lost the fever.