Review: Petty delivers the goods at 'Knob'
By Emily Achenbaum
The Michigan Daily - Monday, June 28, 1999
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers | Pine Knob | June 18, 1999
The stage was set for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who performed at Pine Knob on June 18, to do something a little different -- and a little magical.
Petty's stage had a VH1's "Storytellers" meets Pier 1 Imports look, making the audience feel like they had been invited into Petty's private lair for the show. The set was strewn with candelabras, velvet pillows, oriental rugs and wooden trunks. Suspended above the band were translucent tapestries painted to look like stained glass. Four large ornate globes, glowing orange and blue as they slowly burned incense, hung from the pavilion ceiling over the audience.
Sure, it was a little new-age. But this is Tom Petty. And he was going to deliver a rock 'n' roll show.
When the petite Petty, dressed in a vintage black overcoat, took the stage he modestly opened with saying, "In case you arrived late, we're Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and we'll be your designated musical entertainment for the rest of the evening."
He then performed "Don't Do Me Like That," a song that, like Petty and his band, needs no introduction or explanation.
With Petty's set design and cool-as-a-cucumber demeanor, the entire show felt like he was just hanging out and jamming for his buddies (in this case, a few thousand of them) rather than putting on an impersonal, mechanical show.
"What a fine aroma is in the air tonight," Petty purred and the audience, especially those sitting on the lawn under a cloud of smoke, howled in agreement. Petty then ripped into "Last Dance with Mary Jane," his previous comment confirming suspicions that "Mary Jane" is not actually about a long-legged Midwestern girl.
Petty followed with a sleepy, seductive, drawn-out version of "I Won't Back Down," and delivered effortless versions of favorites like "Breakdown," "Refugee," the classic "American Girl," recent hit "It's Good to Be King" from the "Wildflowers" album and "Learning to Fly."
The rendition of "Learning to Fly" was a perfect example of what makes live shows with unpretentious musicians like Petty such a treat. Not only could the audience feel the vibrations and complexities of every beat, but the song was more relaxed and spontaneous sounding compared to the precise, polished versions on Petty's album. "Learning to Fly" and "American Girl" both features lengthy, playfully added guitar riffs.
Heartbreaker Mike Campbell then took center stage with two solos, including a long instrumental piece which Petty accompanied with an electrifying harmonica back-up.
But the highlight of the evening yet to come. The lights suddenly went down and one of the carved wooden chests onstage was illuminated like a mystical jack-o-lantern. Petty opened it, pulled out one of his signature top hats, and slowly placed it on his head. The stage was instantly re-lit as Petty poured himself into "Don't Come Around Here No More," adding a spunky guitar bit at the end. The song ended with a crescendo and Petty removed his hat. The lights went out, only to rise again and reveal him sitting on the chest, a sly smile on his face.
The thrilling, clever piece would have been a satisfying end to the concert. But Petty wanted to give the audience something extra. But he didn't unleash any special effects, bring dancers onstage or change into a new outfit to strut around stage in -- that is what a typical, flashy rock star would do. And Petty knows he doesn't need it.
His encore, "Free Fallin'," kept the audience rocking on their feet for an extra ten minutes.