By Tony Bonyata"It's one of those hot & sweaty rock-n-roll nights!" exclaimed Tom Petty as the sweat poured from the thousands filling the Marcus Amphitheater in Milwaukee last Friday evening. Despite the sweltering heat and humidity (which made for a heat index of 115 degrees) Petty and his longtime backing band The Heartbreakers, which featured lead guitarist Mike Campbell, guitarist Scott Thurston, keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Howie Epstein and drummer Steve Ferrone, tore through 23 years worth of familiar, classic-rock radio hits as well as a handful of covers and surprises that kept the sweat-drenched crowd reeling through the night.
Photo By Phil Bonyata
Petty, with long, blonde hay for locks and dressed in black slacks and vest with an untucked white, ruffled shirt, stepped out with guitar in hand amidst a stage that looked like Lewis Carroll's trip to an opium den, with large red velvet curtains that flanked the stage, candles, throw pillows scattered around and huge burning incense pots hanging from the rafters. The band kick things open with a rousing version of "Jammin' Me", a song Petty co-wrote with Bob Dylan in 1987, and proceeded to deliver a set heavy on hits, featuring old 70's guitar-driven gems such as "Breakdown", "American Girl" and "Don't Do Me Like That". Dipping into his 80's standards Petty donned a black top hat and pranced around the stage which throbbed from a pulsing strobelight on the Indian-infused "Don't Come Around Here No More" and turned his middle-of-the-road-rocker "I Won't Back Down" into an acoustic stadium sing-along. He also performed impassioned versions of "Free Fallin' " and "You Got Lucky" from that era.
Petty, who at 48 is entering early middle age, has been maturing musically on his '90's efforts which includes his 1994 album Wildflowers as well as his latest release Echo. From Wildflowers The Heartbreakers performed solid renditions of the majestic "It's Good To Be King" which by song's end transformed into a swelling, triumphant jam session between bandmembers and "You Don't Know How It Feels", Petty's Dylan-esque anthem for pot-heads. From Echo they breezed through "Free Girl Now" which is a return to Petty's damn-the-torpedoes form and "Swingin' ", a powerful number about a good girl who went bad, which showcased his low, raw raspy voice and again featured undertones of His Bobness. Mike Campbell aptly handled the vocal duties on the rowdy "I Don't Wanna Fight", and got his share of the spotlight on an instrumental surf / spy-fi medley that unfortunately found him noodling about on his guitar through the majority of it.
During his encore Petty mumbled his way through a cover of the Shadows Of The Knight's "Gloria", as the Heartbreakers turned this garage-classic into a slice of '90's grunge with their gritty guitars and pounding rhythms.
Surprisingly, one of the few disappointments of the show was that more songs from Echo weren't performed. Of course the majority of the audience wanted to hear his older material, but the fact that Echo holds up as well as any of his previous work made the absence of more of these songs, on a tour designed to promote it, a sore spot.
Opening for Petty was country / blues artist Lucinda Williams who, despite a short set, ignited the stage with her raw, salt-of-the-earth numbers. With a cute yet disheveled hairdo and skin-tight bells, this 46 year old Louisiana native performed a few older numbers as well as classics from her latest album, Car Wheels On A Gravel Road. "Still I Long For Your Kiss", which was also used for the soundtrack for Robert Redford's "The Horse Whisperer" featured Williams' heartfelt, mournful vocals and acoustic guitar over a meaningful lead guitar and powerful rhythm section. Her 6-piece backing band raged through the Texas roadhouse stomp of "Can't Let Go" complete with a greasy slide guitar, and then locked into a funky, southern-fried groove on the mesmerizing number "Joy", which featured a spectacularly delicious organ solo. She also performed her song "Changed The Locks", which Tom Petty recorded for his 1996 album "She'sThe One"".
With her earthy blend of rock and roots music Lucinda Williams' sweet, passionate set proved fertile ground for Petty to later sow his bluesy, rock-n-roll seeds into.
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