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Critics' Choice
A SOLO HEARTBREAKER
11/13/17

By Phil Gallo

Benmont Tench is the first Heartbreaker to return to performing since the death of Tom Petty, appearing solo at Largo in L.A. in October and Iridium last week in New York. He’s not supporting anything in particular —he had a solo album come out three years ago, You Should Be So Lucky on Blue Note, and he has plenty of new material—and the show was as much about Tench’s here and now as it was the music that got him interested in rock & roll five decades ago.  

At the second of two sold-out solo concerts at Iridium, the pianist covered songs that exposed his affinity for ‘50s, blues, gospel and early Southern rock & roll, styles that sat on a back burner while he was providing support to Petty for 40 years. He opened with a familiar Temptations hit, “I Wish it Would Rain,” and covered Chuck Berry (“Roll Over Beethoven”), dipped into obscurities from Bob Dylan (“Shot of Love”) and Barry Mann-Cynthia Weill (“Shape of Things to Come” from Wild in the Streets), and evoked Professor Longhair, Jerry Lee Lewis and Randy Newman elsewhere.

His originals provided a calm contrast. He’s an emotional writer, his lyrics and melodies tug at the heart without venturing into melancholy or maudlin territory and one of his best, a tune he wrote years ago that Carlene Carter covered, “Unbreakable Heart,” encapsulated so much of his writing.

Tench never mentioned Petty by name, and his stories were often about the creative process—his muses seems to strike him most often while driving on the west side of Los Angeles and in the vicinity of Central Park. The evening’s finale, the ballad “You Can Still Change Your Mind” introduced as being “written by my two favorite songwriters,” Petty and Mike Campbell, was as heartwarming as it was heartbreaking.