The Petty Archives

Petty and band a class act
By Lynne Margolis
Washington Observer-Reporter - September 16, 1991

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are one of the classiest acts in rock 'n' roll, which they proved once again Sunday night at Star Lake Amphitheater.

Petty, who has always tried to maintain artistic integrity while turning out a slew of tunes capturing the quintessence of rock, has just enough dramatic flair to make his shows entertaining without being schlocky, just enough ingenuity to get his messages across without preaching, just enough boyish enthusiasm to make his music fun without being silly.

This time, his stage set consisted of a giant, gnarly old tree with doors and a staircase coming out of it; chandeliers hung throughout the amphitheater, concealing computerized stage lights; candelabras, and a few relics from his last tour.

During "Don't Come Around Here No More," Petty popped out of the tree, grabbed his Rickenbacker guitar, went to an old steamer trunk, opened it and lifted out a hat. During the song, as strobes flickered, several characters in Reagan masks jumped out of the tree and ran around stage. Petty ran out behind them, holding a peace sign like a cross against a vampire. The audience of 14,590 adored the political statement.

He had more fun with a too-short medley of "Listen to Her Heart," "Breakdown" and "American Girl"; several songs from his new "Into the Great Wide Open" album (though he skipped the title tune and another excellent piece, "Built to Last," from that release); songs from his '89 solo effort, "Full Moon Fever"; a Van Morrison ballad; and a few sections from his 15 years of hits, including "Refugee" and "The Waiting."

Drummer Stan Lynch sang a delicious version of The Count Five's 1966 hit, "Psychotic Reaction," as Petty played harp and the tree lit up "like a psychedelic dragon."

Each of the Heartbreakers has enough musical acumen to go solo; that Lynch, keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Howie Epstein and lead guitarist Mike Campbell have stayed with Petty so long is a testament to the power of his musical vision. As infectious as much of Petty's recorded music is, he and the Heartbreakers must be heard live to be fully appreciated.

Opening the show was Chris Whitley, who played several bluesy, country-tinged tunes from his debut LP, "Living With The Law."