Tom Petty Reaffirms His Universal Appeal
By Roger Catlin
Hartford Courant - April 2, 1995
It may have been a tactical error to book Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in the modestly sized New Haven Coliseum Saturday night.
Sure, the band drew a smaller crowd last time it played the larger Hartford Civic Center, but Petty, at 44, is reaching a new creative and commercial peak in his long career.
Not only was the New Haven show sold out weeks in advance, young people at the show who were singing along to the new songs weren't as familiar with such workhorses as "Refugee," but appeared to like them all the same.
It was a strange and wonderful thing to behold, renewing one's confidence in the universal appeal of the music. Amid the scads of teenagers and rows of dedicated old fans were whole families: grandfathers, maybe, all the way down to grade-school kids.
As the poet Chuck Berry once proclaimed: "Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' roll!"
No April Foolin', Saturday marked 21 years ago to the day, Petty said, that he ventured out of Gainesville, Fla., to Los Angeles with a dream to make his name in rock.
His show demonstrated how consistent his output has been, from his first album 17 years ago, to his latest effort, "Wildflowers."
The recent hit "You Don't Know How It Feels," dispatched as just the second song in the two-hour show, fit just fine with the older songs that followed, from "Listen to Her Heart" to "American Girl" in the encore.
Petty's music builds on the basics of rock he grew up to love, and adds catchy choruses and simple truths, to wit: "I Won't Back Down."
An assault of upbeat tunes, from "Free Fallin' " to "You Wreck Me" made its force felt to the highest reaches of the old coliseum; and he settled in for a six-song acoustic set that included a cover of Muddy Waters' "I Just Wanna Make Love to You" -- the latter without a guitar for Petty.
It helps that the Heartbreakers are one of the most solid bands in rock, but this was an unusual concert in that lead guitarist Mike Campbell didn't stand out as strongly (except when he soloed on a surf instrumental). No, it was Petty's songs, from the beauty of "Time to Move On" to the dry wit of "It's Good to Be King" that stood out strongest.
The absence of drummer Stan Lynch made a bit of a difference, and Steve Ferrone, filling in, added a funkier feel to the classics. Likewise, the remaining ensemble of Howie Epstein and Benmont Tench was enhanced by longtime Jackson Browne sideman Scott Thurston.
Neither did Petty need to rely on a fanciful set, as he did last time on tour. With just a few vertical light poles and a single disco ball, he had all he needed to ignite the songs.
Opening the show with songs nearly as strong were the Jayhawks, a Minneapolis band who work in the tradition of country rock with poignant ballads followed by rockers that suitably warmed up the large, varied crowd.