Petty Ready to Play
By Joel Selvin
The San Francisco Chronicle - January 9, 1997
He's relaxed in rehearsal for Fillmore
Tom Petty is not exactly sure what he will do when he hits the stage tomorrow night at the Fillmore Auditorium, and that is exactly the point.
"The shows, I think, will change nightly," Petty said yesterday by phone from his Los Angeles home. "Fairly drastically. We'll play what we like at the time. I think it's good for us mentally as a band to feel like we're still a band. People shouldn't come expecting us to play our biggest hits. That doesn't mean we won't. But they should expect to hear stuff they don't know. We'll be playing the catalog that never got played." Petty and his band the Heartbreakers customarily fill hockey rinks and amphitheaters 10 to 20 times the size of the 1,100-seat Fillmore. They'll play 20 sold-out shows over the next four weeks at the historic hall where rock giants like Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Cream and the Doors appeared alongside San Francisco bands like the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane in the '60s.
Petty will take this opportunity, he said, to indulge himself shamelessly.
"I just want to play," he said, "and get away from the land of videos and records for a while. We want to get back to what we understand. We're musicians and it's a life we understand. If we went out on an arena tour right now, I don't think we'd be real inspired. We're musicians and we want to play. We've made so many records in the past five years, I think the best thing for us to do is just go out and play and it will lead us to our next place, wherever that may be."
At rehearsal Tuesday night in Los Angeles, Petty said, the master list contained 57 songs, the group played without a drummer for a half hour and it began dabbling in bluegrass.
"In rehearsal, we're having a ball. Of course, there's only been two, but they've been long. It's been a long, long time since everyone's been this up about anything -- to just play and be a band," he said.
"We'll be drawing it from all over. We will play lots of covers and we know a lot of songs. It'll be more like our sound checks, where we play what we like. But we will play some of our hits -- we do like those as well."
Years of touring indoor and outdoor arenas have left Petty and his band somewhat less than enthusiastic about touring at this point.
"When you send someone out and they have to park two or three miles away or in some multitiered parking structure," he said, "and then they end up sitting in the upper stratosphere, you do feel compelled to play them the most popular songs. You can't play a blues. Everyone would be like 'I went through hell and he just played the blues?' "
Petty said the idea of scaling down occurred to him after he played a short set at an AIDS benefit early last year at the Beverly Hilton ballroom. Scheduling dates at the Fillmore -- a room Petty has never even seen -- proved to be somewhat problematic ("I drove the Fillmore people mad booking dates and then canceling them"). Then, once the dates were announced, the opening was postponed after his arm, which he broke in a kickboxing accident, healed more slowly than anticipated.
"I'm real excited," Petty said. "I've never heard the group sound better. It's like, 'Man, have we got a band or what?' "
Petty said he has no larger agenda, no goals to workshop new material or experiment with recordings in mind. The sole plan, he emphasized, is for him and the Heartbreakers to have fun.
"I want to stroll out without a list and just do what we like," he said. "Hopefully it will be worth the price of admission. I know I'm going to look really good."