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Petty and His Heartbreakers Deliver No-Frills Classic Rock; Chieftans Prove Irish Mettle

By Frank ScheckSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / March 27, 1995



NEW YORK

TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS

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At Madison Square Garden

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is one durable group: It released its first album nearly two decades ago (for a rock band, that's more like two centuries). Petty, with and without the Heartbreakers, is still making great music, as is evidenced by his recent album ''Wildflowers.'' The record is officially a solo effort, but most of the band plays on it.

The group is currently on a nationwide sold-out concert tour, which continues throughout the summer, playing in outdoor arenas and amphitheaters.

The musician began his New York show with ''I'm Tom Petty, and these are the Heartbreakers'' -- a standard introduction that seems unnecessary, but its modesty befits a performer who has been writing and recording great rock songs, without flashiness or scandal, for as long as he has.

Dressed in black jeans and sneakers, and sporting a scraggly beard, Petty proceeded to lead the band through two hours of great music, including a dozen familiar hits and numerous songs from the new release.

Petty's recorded voice can become a bit of a drone, but in concert the music takes on a greater urgency, and his vocals take a back seat to the amazing instrumental work.

His music, a model of classic guitar-based folk-rock inspired by the Byrds and the Beach Boys, has the kind of tight structure and hooks that make the songs immediately recognizable. When he began ''I Won't Back Down,'' the audience roared its approval with the first guitar chord.

''Wildflowers'' is perhaps Petty's quietest, most ruminative album to date, and that material particularly benefited from the punchier concert versions. Unlike Bob Dylan, Petty does not dramatically change the arrangements or tempos of the songs, but he adds flourishes: ''Last Dance With Mary Jane'' featured an extended blues jam.

THE CHIEFTANS

At Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center

Although the Irish music group the Chieftans has been together for 31 years, it only recently made a splash on the sales charts with its 31st recording, ''The Long Black Veil.''

One reason for the group's new-found success is consumers' increasing willingness to sample all types of music from around the world. Another, of course, is the roster of guest stars assembled for the disc, including the Rolling Stones, Sting, Van Morrison, Tom Jones, and many others. Suddenly, the Chieftans is one of the hottest groups around.

For a New York concert given on St. Patrick's Day, the venerable group performed largely on its own, although one of the album's stars, Marianne Faithfull, was enlisted to reprise her number, ''Love is Teasin.' ''

Performing selections from the new album, plus numerous songs from its vast repertoire of traditional Irish music, as well as original songs, the group performed with a playfulness that only musicians who have played together for decades can.

The Chieftans consists of: Paddy Moloney (bagpipes); the wickedly funny, deadpan, unofficial leader of the group; Kevin Conneff (Irish hand drum and vocals); Matt Molloy (flute); Martin Fay and Sean Keane (fiddle); and Derek Bell (on the harp and keyboards).

Each musician was given his chance to shine on the solo improvisations that were liberally sprinkled throughout the music. Particularly amazing was Molloy, who performed a virtuosic flute solo filled with intricate patterns, which evoked spon taneous cheers from the audience. Derek Bell was the cut-up of the group, enlivening his beautiful harp playing with spontaneous clowning.

Besides Faithfull's smoky vocal turn on a couple of numbers, the evening also benefited from some other guests, including Carlos Nunez, a virtuoso on pipes, who played with the group on Celtic tunes from the Galicia region of Spain, and several dancers who performed spirited Irish jigs while the band played. A festive time was had by all.