Reviews: Petty crowd blossoms for flashier ‘Wildflowers’
By Dave Tianen
The Milwaukee Sentinel — March 6, 1995
It was natural to wonder if Tom Petty could grow “Wildflowers” in an arena.
Petty’s new album, “Wildflowers,” is perhaps his most personal, intimate work, much of it more in the singer-songwriter realm than in his usual heartland rock style. So it was natural to wonder if the sellout crowd Sunday night at the Arena would be in a mood to sniff “Wildflowers,” or if it would grow restless with anything more idyllic than “American Girl.”
The results were decidedly mixed.
Two songs into his set, Petty turned to “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” a big hit from the “Wildflowers” garden, but one clearly in his arena rock mold.
“You Don’t Know How It Feels” has a great hooky chorus, ideal for seducing an arena full of party animals. Clearly, Petty was suckering the crowd by giving it what it wanted. They responded by staying on their feet and singing from the opening line of a succession of such crowd pleasers as “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin'” and the necrophiliac minuet “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.”
After about an hour, Petty pulled out the plug and started to work in some of the newer, more subdued stuff, like “Time To Move On,” and “Wildflowers.” The new times play to the folky, Roger McGuinn/Dylan side of Petty, and they’re a worthy addition to his resume. But the crowd reaction was spotty, conversations started to break out and a couple rows back a young woman started to bray, “Tom, you’re so-o-o bad!” in a voice that could wake Elvis.
Sometimes whether music succeeds in concert has nothing to do with its intrinsic worth or even the caliber of the performance. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of striking the right chord for the right venue.
One of the admirable things about Petty in concert is the degree to which he showcases Mike Campbell on guitar. Campbell is an enormous asset and Petty allows him ample opportunity to shine, including a solo tune to himself, a long-ago slice of Ventures’ surf guitar called “Diamond Head.”
Opening for Petty was fast-rising young contender Pete Droge. Droge has the chops to blow sophomores like Matthew Sweet off the stage. Anyone who can consistently produce simple yet varied tunes with juicy choruses and sharp hooks will always have a place in rock ‘n’ roll. Pete sounds like a keeper.