Music Review: Petty pleases with grab bag of old, new
By Oria Swift
Meriden Record-Journal - September 20, 1991
HARTFORD -- "I think if you're gonna do this night after night," Tom Petty told the ravenous crowd at the Hartford Civic Center Thursday, "you've gotta have all the fun you can handle."
He wasn't kidding. With his goofy hat and childlike stage antics, the 40-year-old rocker has always displayed a penchant for theatrics. But the spectacle he presented Thursday surpassed many.
Sure, Bowie's got a big glass spider, and Neil Young had those human-sized barn rats. But Petty's stage boasted a bulging, creeping inflatable tree in which lived (among other monsters) a "psychedelic dragon" who dutifully brought him his harmonica on a silver tray. ("Just act normal," Petty advised. "He'll go away.")
After 15 years with his Heartbreakers, Petty's learn that there's got to be something for everyone in any good show. So along with the eye-popping stage setup -- which also featured a totem pole, a suit of armor, and chandeliers -- Petty strummed his way gleefully through a grab bag of hits not only from his new album, Into the Great Wide Open, but from his golden years past.
Petty reportedly prepared about 40 songs from which to draw each evening's playlist, and reports from earlier shows indicated that his new material snagged the lion's share of those sets. If so, Thursday's audience -- which appeared to be hooked on classics -- was more fortunate. Sure, he trudged through his doltish new single, "Into the Great Wide Open," and the more impressive "Out in the Cold" and "Too Good To Be True."
But those as yet unknown samples were accompanied by many heaping tablespoons of sugar, like "Psychotic Reaction" (sung by drummer Stan Lynch), a Van Morrison cover, and the threatening "Don't Come Around Here No More," in which three dark-suited men emerged from the dragon's tree -- Reagan, Nixon and I think Meriden Superintendent of Schools Gordon A. Bruno -- and chased Petty around the stage until he scurried up the tree and pulled out a large, orange peace sign, scaring off his pursuers.
Petty also offered up some songs from his 1989 solo album that seemed to have already become audience favorites: "Free Fallin," "Runnin' Down a Dream" and "Yer So Bad."
His Heartbreakers occasionally snagged the spotlight, most notably Mike Campbell, with his chime-like mandolin work and blazing electric guitar solos, and Benmont Tench, who rocked the joint with a jazzy ragtime piano jam.