The Petty Archives

Editor's Note: I could go for some lard-free tacos.

Tom Petty's Winning Ways
By Joel Selvin
The San Francisco Chronicle - May 2, 1995

An amiable, simple style
After 20 years on the scene, Tom Petty has joined the rock and roll pantheon his own work so obviously celebrates.

Sporting a ratty little beard and his trademark untucked shirt and vest, Petty opened the Shoreline Amphitheatre season Sunday (he will return to Shoreline on June 13) by rambling through more than 100 minutes of material, ranging as far back as "Listen to Her Heart" from his second album and as far forward as "Driving Down to Georgia," a new unrecorded song he displayed prominently in the set's closing segment.

Candles burning onstage and constant streams of mist in the background gave the set an ethereal atmosphere.

Petty long ago assimilated the influences he wore on his sleeve -- Dylan, Neil Young, the Byrds -- to forge a style entirely his own. He puts a laconic drawl into his tales of loss and desolation, a lazy leer into his erotic longing, and he can veer from baritone mutterings to passionate shrieks in the course of a single song.

Through it all emerges an essential quality of fellowship. It starts with his own amiable persona, extends to the camaraderie of his remarkable band, the Heartbreakers, and before long overtakes his audience.

Petty opened with "Love Is a Long Road" from his 1989 solo debut, "Full Moon Fever," a multiplatinum breakthrough for him. He performed nearly half the songs from that album during his 24-song performance.

He concentrated his repertoire on songs from his recent albums, including his latest, "Wildflowers," which has sold more than 3 million copies, and threw in the occasional offbeat selection such as J.J. Cale's "13 Days" and Chuck Berry's "Round and Round." He tucked the guitar-strumming introduction from "Pinball Wizard" into the instrumental passage of "The Waiting." Guitarist Mike Campbell even tossed off an old piece of Ventures surf- rock, "Diamond Head."

But the core of the performance was Petty's well-crafted songwriting, put over by the brilliant work of his band. Guitarist Campbell can supply the typical arena-rock high, squealing solos when necessary, but his best work was the fine-point detail with which he embroidered the edge of the band's polished sound.

Likewise, keyboardist Benmont Tench might not be the instrumentalist people went home talking about, but his supple, fluid lines gave many of the songs their melodic lifeblood. At the end of "Mary Jane's Last Dance," "Good to Be King" and the stark "Driving Down to Georgia," the band built lengthy instrumental passages that moved gracefully into neopsychedelic meanderings.

For nearly a half-hour, the band transformed Petty's electric rock songs into acoustic- flavored folk tunes, including the whimsical "Girl on LSD," a wacky ditty that appeared only as a B-side of the first single from the new album.

At the center of this gleaming rock sound is Petty, shaping the ensemble around his songs, suiting each vocal to the material. On "Cabin Down Below," he breathed an Elvis rumble into the piece's innuendo. He belted the chorus to "Free Fallin' " with the kind of voltage not usually associated with him.

An agreeable show, laced with hits and loaded with great musicianship, the concert inaugurated the Shoreline season in high style, an event further marked by the introduction of two new concession booths -- a sausage grill featuring Thai chicken and other specialty Aidell sausages, as well as a lard-free taco and burrito stand.

Missing from the box office, however, was Victor Morita, a longtime fixture of the Shoreline scene who was stabbed to death breaking up a fight backstage at a rock show last year at the San Jose Arena.

Not only did the Shoreline staff commemorate the passing of this slightly sarcastic, kindly soul with a brass plaque above his window, but someone else also taped a hand-lettered sign on the ticket office wall. Shoreline will never be the same without him.