Tom Petty rocks on
By Phillip Elwood
The San Francisco Chronicle - March 8, 1999
Tom Petty, his Heartbreakers and the night's guest, Lucinda Williams, stomped off his seven night series of performances (spread over a couple of weeks) at the Fillmore on Sunday night with a definitive performance of good ol' rock 'n' roll, the likes of which we've not heard since his few nights of similar appearances a couple of years ago.
Petty's music over the years has shown an integrity virtually unmatched on the rock scene. His band, with him for more than two decades, is the best in the business of traditional, hard-core rock, in large measure because they've stayed together and thus play (magnificently) together.
When Petty kicked off "Reelin' and Rockin," Chuck Berry's 1958 classic, the Fillmore crowd, jam-packed into the historic hall where Berry himself often played in the late '60s, waved their arms, moved their bodies, reveling in a song that all of them know but few have ever heard played as well as by the Heartbreakers.
Petty's rock and rollin' jamboree kept up Berry's pace as the concert moved to the midnight hour, with tunes old and new tossed into the mix. From JJ Cale's "They Call Me The Breeze" to Bo Diddley's "Diddy Wah Wah" ; from "Telstar" to "Homecoming Queen," with "I Won't Back Down," "You Don't Know How It Feels," "Runnin' Down The Road," "Don't Do Me Like That" played along the way. This was not just an evening of grand, exhilarating rock 'n' roll, it was a tribute to Petty's contribution to the popular music of this era and to his perseverance.
Through thick and thin - and he's endured it all - Petty has sung, played and led his band like a rock 'n' roll crusader. Often entangled in disputes with record companies, sometimes pushed aside as heavy metal and other new varieties of rock music came to popularity, then often vanishing, Petty has continued to play the stuff of which the most enduring rock 'n' roll traditions are made.
On Sunday there were frequent stylistic references to Bob Dylan, and many to The Band. The Heartbreakers remain Mike Campbell on guitar, Benmont Tench, keyboards; Howie Epstein, bass and Steve Ferrone, drums, with some additional keyboard and guitar help. Each gets solo space (especially Campbell), but overall this is an ensemble effort. Often overlooked is Petty's own remarkably sensitive and commanding guitar work, around which most renditions are centered.
Opening Sunday's show was a performance by Williams and her fine band. Petty and Williams recorded "Change The Locks" together in 1996 (she did it, solo, on Sunday) and her folk-country-rock style and material fitted perfectly into the pattern of Petty's subsequent set.
Williams' band arrangements worked behind her voice beautifully - especially on "Right In Time," a wonderful number.
The mood of Petty's shows at the Fillmore brings back memories of bygone years, when rock 'n' roll was more personal, and more fun; when the crowd felt like family and accepted the performers (who were usually very close to their age) as close friends.
The deep impression that Petty's music makes on his Fillmore listeners is also an aspect of the feeling that the old hall itself creates. Williams looked around the auditorium, then at the crowd as its cheers subsided, and said, "I can tell you're not a folk music audience, you're a rock 'n' roll crowd."
Petty merely said, "There's something very special for me and the Heartbreakers to play in this famous place."
On Monday night, Petty's guests will be the group "War." His rock 'n' roll jamboree series, long since sold out, continues on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of this week and on Monday and Tuesday, March 15 and 16.