Review and Photos by Phil BonyataTom Petty has traveled a long and sometimes hard road since his rise to rock stardom some 25 years ago in the late 70s. Continuing along the roots set down by Bob Dylan and Neil Young he has successfully branched out and created an identity all his own. Petty and the Heartbreakers know the taste of stardom well. Their popular stable is littered with hit after memorable hit. Petty knows how to lay down a melody, infuse it with backbone and top it off with some powerful and infectious lyrics. Put on any Petty CD and you can't help but get lured into the songsmith's expertly crafted music.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers sauntered onto to the wall to wall Persian rug carpeted stage at the Marcus Amphitheater on Sunday night. In total darkness, the psychedelic rear projections strangely silhouetted the bands stationary figures. The overly spunky Petty, clad in a tan suit coat, tight fitting jeans, brown cowboy boots and signature long, stringy blonde hair, set the opening chops to "Here Comes My Girl." The guitars topped off the melody with a quicker than usual tempo to the dismay of the bass section. It came off with a tighter edge and a fatter foundation. Petty soon discovered the heat index outside and threw off his jacket to reveal a sweat drenched white dress shirt. He must've been locked in his trailer all day and never had the chance to sample the Summerfest ground's sweltering heat. Or a lot of sweat just might be his rock 'n roll muse.
The band revealed two new songs from their forthcoming album due out this fall. "Lost Children" was an understated ode with an edgy, yet sweetly twangy delivery that helped to foster it's somber yet hopeful message. "Have Love Will Travel" took old school country roots and tore at it's foundation with super chunky basslines and a spicy lead guitar.
"It's Good To Be King" found a new level of dependent creativity. Lead Guitarist Mike Campbell and Petty started trading soulful and beguiling chord changes. They stretched the song into a nearly 15 minute guitar ballet, not trying to out duel each other, but understanding that each role's success was dependent on the other. Petty roamed the stage and lifted his guitar to the sky as each wailing note coupled with Campbell's subtly grounded energy. The sold out audience was surprisingly young. Their enthusiasm was mostly true unlike some moments when they felt obliged to cheer so they could qualify the money spent on the ticket. The band soon followed with "Learning to Fly" like morphed robots looking for the paycheck before they finished the work. This is the rub with Tom Petty. In past concerts the band would have moments of greatness and many other times play the rote version that you just listened to on the way to the concert in great anticipation. These guys are not overly visual and it's imperative that the music takes the show to the next level. Many other hits played the same way. When they strayed from safeness the music took off.
Petty and company certainly have the talent - question is do they have the will to reach greatness while performing live?
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