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Time fades away: Tom Petty at SPAC.

Martin Benjamin

Time Warp

By Bill Ketzer

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Allman Brothers Band

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 13

When asked how he’d like to be remembered, Tom Petty once confided, “Like Roy Orbison said, I just hope I’m remembered.” I don’t think he’ll have any problem with that.

Needless to say, Petty has come a long way since warming up stoners and boners across the states on Kiss’ Destroyer tour in 1976, as a reeling, totally wasted and well-oiled SPAC crowd confirmed with a fat roar of anticipation when he hit the stage with “Listen to Her Heart.” From that point on, it was pretty much gravy, the band sublime and their leader capable of leading as the night wore on and the lawn space was tortured with hallucinating mongoloids who were aging several years in the space of a few hours. But for Petty, the opposite was true. He does this uncanny thing where his creaky, birdlike countenance literally disappears when he is performing; he actually was getting younger. During oldies like “Refugee” and “You Got Lucky,” one swore it was 1978 again—Carter in the Oval Orifice, Elvis Aron freshly buried, and baseball still important—and with the final notes of encore “American Girl” he was 25 again, signed to Shelter Records and warming up grown men in makeup and codpieces.

On what may be the band’s last major national outing, Petty was all too gracious, thanking his audience after every song in his slightly toasted manner, slow dancing around the place with open arms. Not necessarily beautiful, but stoned. The guy does a lot of thinking. “I thought we might play a Traveling Wilburys song,” he’d announce, or “I thought we’d play a number off my new album” (“Saving Grace” is a scorching road song a la ZZ Top’s “La Grange”), but one of his cooler thoughts was to cover a few British blues numbers that influenced five guys from Gainesville, Fla., to get in a van and head for the West Coast 30 years ago, especially a nasty, slithering rendition of “Oh Well” by a pre-Stevie-and-Lindsey Fleetwood Mac.

Speaking of Stevie Nicks, the purring pagan was suspiciously absent after much airtime was dedicated to her appearance in Saratoga. She joined Petty last week in Portland, but perhaps discovered that the drug recidivism rate in the Capital Region is the highest in all the mid-Atlantic states combined, so it may have been a wise and hairy fear that kept her big boots away. Or not. However, the Heartbreakers soldiered on, and the air smacked of bubblegum and vitamins and bad cologne as they delivered dozens of classics, including “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “Free Fallin’” and the thinly veiled metaphors of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” during which Petty actually took a rare lead break away from co-captain Mike Campbell. But the fans were the winners that night; they took away so much more.

Summer favorites the Allman Brothers really jacked up the place for the illustrious headliner. Before the show I told myself I’d take anyone born in the backseat of a Greyhound bus rollin’ down Highway 41 over Trey Anastasio any day, or more accurately over the 4,000 people who seem to follow him wherever he goes (Anastasio finished his stint with Petty the week prior), but I had never fully recovered from my first viewing of their early promotional photo depicting the band totally naked, plopped down in a shallow creek. That was all I needed to know about the band who sometimes felt like they were tied to a whipping post, but their messianic performance of “Whipping Post” as an encore in fading daylight won me over forever. I was in awe. Sleep-deprived, raw, stinking and emotionally unstable, all I could do was sit there in the relative safety of the 18th row and tear up after every swollen, swirling crescendo.

 

 


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