Tom Petty gets weird (and Tony likes it)
By Tony Jordon
The Lafayette - Friday, February 16, 1990
As the opening keyboard notes of "Love Is A Long Road" began, the audience could just make out the band members standing behind the translucent screen. The guitars banged in, the curtain rose, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers began another show on their More Strange Behavior tour.
The stage had the look of a twisted garage sale, with items such as a stuffed grizzly bear, a suit of armour, a totem pole, and a ram's skull placed on the boundaries of the stage. The band rolled through "Love Is A Long Road" and then began "A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own," another song from the phenomenal Full Moon Fever album.
After this, things began to get interesting. Petty has increasingly been experimenting with different musical styles on his tours and this night was no exception. The drummer, Stan Lynch, took over on vocals to do a little rockabilly number. Then Benmont Tench took his turn at center stage, playing rollicking boogie-woogie piano on a tune appropriately known as "Ben's Boogie."
It was then time for some drums. But this wasn't your typical rock concert drum solo. It seems that touring with the Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan in '85 had an affect on Mr. Petty. Each member of the band, except for Tom Petty, picked up a different percussion instrument. Mike Campbell (lead guitar) began playing an Indian-like string instrument with mallets, Howie Epstein (bass) played a kettle drum, and Tench and Lynch stayed on their respective instruments.
They produced a very mesmerizing sound and Petty returned to the stage looking very disoriented. He then proceeded to pick up two huge drumsticks and clanged right in on huge metallic sounding drums toward the back of the stage. This unexpected twist left many people looking as disoriented as T.P. The reason for this strangely psychedelic portion of the show soon began apparent as the band segued nicely into the trippy "Don't Come Around Here No More," complete with a liquid light show on the screens behind the stage. In all, it was a very weird and wonderful surprise.
The show then proceeded in a more conventional fashion, with the exception of a cover of The Youngbloods (don't hold me to that one, because I wasn't too sure of the group) "Get It Together," which Petty dedicated to the volunteers manning the Greenpeace booths set up in the Spectrum.
The band pulled out many more songs from the new album, including "A Face In The Crowd," an airly singalong on "Free Falling," and a frantic romp through "Runnin' Down a Dream." On "Won't Back Down," however, the band seemed kind of lackluster until Mike Campbell managed to jumpstart them with a twangy slide guitar solo. Also, the inclusion of the soft lullaby "Alright For Now" really slowed the concert down and should have been left off the set list.
Besides the new songs, The Heartbreakers brought out many of their hits. "Refugee," "American Girl," "Rebels," "Breakdown," and "The Waiting" were all given somewhat new twists to give the songs a freshness for both the audience and the band. Interestingly, "The Waiting" is slowly replacing "Breakdown" as the big audience participation song.
Despite the short length of the show (only 90 min.), it was one of the better Petty concerts I have seen. They managed to pack the hour-and-a-half full of excitement, with only one or two songs to slow down the pace. The further experimentation and improvisation by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers continues to make his concerts some of the most enjoyable and interesting around. Hopefully, he will continue to blend his classic rock sound with new elements with other areas, in both his concerts and on record, to produce unique and exciting music throughout the 90's.
A quick word on opening act Lenny Kravitz. The buzz has been heavy on this guy since before his recent debut album came out but he gave a show that showed much of the hype is true. His excellent blend of soul, pop and psychedelia managed to win him some of the best audience response for an opening act that I have seen in some time, Especially exciting was a funky cover of Hendrix' "If 6 Was 9" and the current hit "Let Love Rule." I'm looking forward to seeing Lenny Kravitz as a headliner at a club so I can really see what he can do.
P.S. Tickets for Eric Clapton at the Spectrum go on sale this Saturday, February 17 at 10 a.m. at all Ticketmaster locations. Good luck on those and I hope to see you there. Until then, keep on rockin' all over the world.