Good to be King
By Jeff Niesel
The UCSD Guardian - Thursday, May 4, 1995
Tom Petty draws both young and old to Sports Arena concert
It must feel pretty good to be Tom Petty. After all, the 44-year-old singer and guitarist has an appeal that spans across generations. Packing the Sports Arena last Wednesday with equal numbers of teens and fortysomethings, Petty played up to expectations the old fashioned way -- through well-written songs and on-stage charisma.
Part of Petty's with young listeners stems from his quirky videos, yet his two-hour concert (on a stage lit as much by candle as spotlight) was void of high-tech paraphernalia. In fact, the acoustic segment of the 23-song show represented some of its highlights. Semi-acoustic versions of "Into the Great Wide Open," "Learning to Fly" and "The Waiting" emphasized feelings of uncertainty and angst. The only misstep was the insipid "Girl on LSD," which scored points for humor but increasingly became dumb and dumber as Petty described his infatuation with women addicted to beer, cocaine and other drugs.
Although Petty opted for an acoustic rendition of some songs, he cranked up the volume on others. "I'm Drivin' Down to Georgia," an unreleased song, sizzled, and tracks such as "You Wreck Me" and "Honey Bee" (from his recent album Wildflowers) adeptly mixed blues and rock.
Part of Petty's appeal comes from the talent of his backing band, the Heartbreakers, which has been with Petty for nearly 20 years. The band played with assurance, as it demonstrated during an intoxicating surf-guitar instrumental which even included a riff from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Guitarist Mke Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench are two of rock's most respected studio musicians, and they earned their paychecks Wednesday night.
While Petty's recent albums haven't consistently had the same edge as 1979's Damn the Torpedoes, he can still work a crowd. Though at times flat material ("Cabin Down Below") and meandering jams ("It's Good To Be King") hampered Petty's performance, his gracious attitude and spirited performance kept the low points from becoming detriments.
Although opening act the Jayhawks didn't portray the same presence as Petty, the Minneapolis-based band has crafted some great, country-influenced songs over its 10-year career. The Jayhawks' latest album, Tomorrow the Green Grass, is the band's best, and songs such as "Blue" and its cover of Grand Funk Railroad's "Bad Time" sounded sharp, even if the band seemed somewhat aloof during its performance.