The Petty Archives

Petty argument: America's best band
By Scott Tady
Beaver County Times - June 25, 1999

The mail bag has been a little light lately.

I can't remember the last time I got a letter, phone call, or email that began with "How dare you say..."

That means it's time to stir up a good argument.

Here goes:

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are America's best rock 'n' roll band. The band proved that again Wednesday, with a sizzling show at Coca-Cola Star Laker Amphitheatre.

Playing for a nearly sold-out crowd, Petty and longtime bandmates Mike Campbell (guitar), Benmont Tench (keyboards), and Howie Epstein (bass) seamlessly blended invigorating new songs with timeless hits like "Don't Do Me Like That," "Breakdown," and "American Girl."

The band opened its show with a fury, ripping into its two most gut-grinding songs: "Jammin' Me" and "Runnin' Down a Dream."

He's not much to look at, but the 45-year-old Petty skillfully handled his frontman role. He doesn't engage in a lot of cliched chatter, preferring instead to let his music do the talking.

And the audience loved what he had to say, dancing and grooving to songs like "You Don't Know How It Feels" and "Last Dance with Mary Jane."

The audience's attention never waned, even during newer numbers or slower-tempo tunes like "You Got Lucky."

Halfway through the show, Petty left the stage for nearly 10 minutes to rest his voice. Too many bands, in that instance, would have filled that gap with some goofy drum solo or erratic guitar solo. But the Heartbreakers got creative in that Petty-less period, jamming on a thrilling, yet soothing, surf-rock number that left the crowd transfixed in its seats.

They're not my favorite band. Heck, they don't even made my all-time Top 10. But when you factor in everything -- talent, significance, influence, live sound -- I'd passionately argue that Petty and the Heartbreakers reign as the current kings of U.S. rock.

I mean, what American rock band would you rank higher?

Aerosmith? Too MTVish.

Allman Brothers Band? What have they done recently?

Black Crowes? Only the first and last albums were standouts.

Dave Matthews Band? Too mellow.

Pearl Jam? Maybe someday, but not yet.

Phish? Too eclectic.

Van Halen? Yeah, right.

Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band? Hmm. Close, but no cigar.

What about you, kindly reader? Let me know whom you rank as the most significant U.S. rock band.