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Music Review: Petty knows how it feels to skip hits, still wow fans
By Ed Masley
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — Wednesday, March 15, 1995
Tom Petty may not be the first big rock ‘n’ roll star ever to sell out a venue the size of the Civic Arena and then spend nearly two hours completely ignoring the songs that made him famous.
He’d almost have to be the first one who’s ever gotten away with it, though.
And he got away with it in a real big way, too.
Without an “American Girl” or “Don’t Do Me Like That” in sight, Petty had last night’s Arena crowd right where he wanted ’em — up on their feet and shoutin’ out the good parts.
He played b-sides.
He played new, unreleased stuff.
He played his share of hits, too, but nothing older than 1989’s “I Won’t Back Down.” At least not until “Refugee.” And then it was a quick romp through “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” and goodnight, Mr. Petty — leaving all the big guns for the encore.
So why did the crowd seem so satisfied, many clapping along, others thrashing wildly to a brand new cowpunk number called “Drivin’ Down To Georgia?”
Blame it on the strength of the new material and raise your lighter high. “Wildflowers” is the strongest Tom Petty release to see the light of day since 1985’s “Southern Accents. In fact, it may be his best yet.
And without all those overblown Jeff Lynne production techniques dragging them down, the songs off “Full Moon Fever” and “Into The Great Wide Open” took on a whole new life.
You want a happy Arena? Try givin’ them a “Hey baby” like the song in “I Won’t Back Down.” Or how about a “Whoa yeah” like that one in “You Wreck Me?”
If they’re still not singing along after a few hooks like that, it’s probably best to pack up the tour bus and move on to Cleveland.
Petty doesn’t have those problems.
In fact, “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” the first single off “Wildflowers,” may be well on its way to becoming the “Freebird” of the ’90s.
By the second time Petty hit that “Let’s get to the point, let’s roll another joint” line, it was getting kind of hard to hear the man over the roar of the crowd.
It sure doesn’t hurt any that Petty’s longstanding backup band, the Heartbreakers, is among the best in the business. It didn’t take much more than a song or two to remind the world why keyboardist Benmont Tench is one of the most-sought-after session players going.
And as for guitarist Mike Campbell, Petty would be lost without him. The man is brilliant, squeezing out perfect, tasteful solos from one end of the set list to the other.
It’s always been Petty’s ballgame, of course, and last night was no exception. Having perfected the stoned weirdo image in videos like “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” Petty can’t help but charm a crowd into submission.
Never was that more apparent than on “The Girl on LSD,” the flip side of a recent single. Petty was hilarious, spitting out lines like “I’m in love with a girl on LSD. She’s seen things I’ll never see.”
As for Peter Droge, his opening blast of convertible-ready folk rock fit Petty’s show so well it was almost criminal. He even looked a little Pettyesque in that ridiculous “You Don’t Know How It Feels” video hat.
The day he writes his first “Even The Losers” — and sorry, “If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Kill Myself)” is not it — Droge could be onto something. In the meantime, I’d bet the farm that he and his band do one hell of an “American Girl.”