Petty, Band Parlay Past Into A Rousing Present
By Jim Abbott
Orlando Sentinel - August 23, 2003
The Rocker And The Heartbreakers Played Favorites With A Fervor At The Ocean Center.
A card-carrying member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Tom Petty is in that perilous territory between relevant hit maker and nostalgia attraction.
But while his energetic and wonderful set Thursday at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach was heavily laden with classic hits, it never sounded like a tired oldies revue. Any flashbacks were pleasant ones.
Though he stopped short of reinvention, Petty invested the familiar songs with considerable conviction. His style combined with inspired musical interplay among the Heartbreakers to yield a vibrant, old-school concert experience.
In the age of pyrotechnics and laser-light shows, Petty and his mates commanded attention with the music alone. Visuals were confined to seductive spotlight shadows or colorful psychedelic patterns on a big screen behind the band.
Nor did the intimate Ocean Center, closer to a college gymnasium than an NBA arena, require the use of those impersonal jumbo video screens to catch a glimpse of someone's face. The hall, which wasn't quite filled to capacity, also boasted far better acoustics than one might expect in an arena.
Petty's voice, still strong and vaguely Dylan-esque, was well above the instruments on the opening "American Girl," the signature hit that set the tone for the evening.
Dressed in a dark suit, Petty acknowledged that the band hadn't been in Central Florida for a while, adding that "there are so many family and friends backstage, it's looking like Thanksgiving dinner back there."
He recalled annual childhood vacations to the beach and vowed to make up for the long gap between concerts by "going through our whole catalog." He didn't play everything, and it was surprising when the band didn't emerge for a second encore after its 90-minute set, but the songs that he did were choice.
Mike Campbell's distinctive one-note slide-guitar lick introduced a studio-worthy version of "I Won't Back Down," while Petty's acoustic 12-string-guitar strumming provided the reflective mood for "Free Fallin'."
Though Campbell's playing defined most of the arrangements, multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston was invaluable in lending additional color. His harmonica provided bluesy flavor to "You Don't Know How It Feels," which built from its acoustic introduction into a searing electric interlude that gave way to Petty's delicate concluding guitar solo.
That range was even more evident on "Melinda," a newly written unrecorded song that evolved from a folksy ballad into an extended jazz-tinged instrumental jam. With a minor-chord riff that reflected the song's yearning sentiment, "Melinda" offered a springboard for Campbell's spacey mandolin solo and Benmont Tench's inventive, grave-sounding grand piano arpeggios.
That song is more promising than much of the solid material on Petty's latest album, The Last DJ, only represented on Thursday by the title track.
Instead, Petty gave the fans what they wanted, only veering from the hits for a garage-band cover of the Animals chestnut "I'm Crying."
Listening to the band tear through its three-chord encore of "You Wreck Me," it was apparent that Petty is aging gracefully though he still has reverence for his rock 'n' roll roots.