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Review: Summerfest Special: Petty keeps energetic crowd on its feet
By Nick Carter
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — Thursday, July 5, 2001
California rocker Browne opens with old favorites
The setting was a stage before about 23,000 people at the Marcus Amphitheater. But rocker Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers made the sold-out show feel like a rousing roadhouse bar gig with a set representing a generous slice of mainstream pop-rock radio of the last 20 years.
With no new album to hawk, Petty stuck with the same format as his last visit to the amphitheater a couple of summers back: a greatest-hits revue that covered nearly all the charting singles.
He opened strong and rollicking with “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” followed by “I Won’t Back Down,” with the crowd on its feet and drowning out Petty on the lyrics. Only by the third song, “Breakdown,” did the audience’s energy simmer down a bit, although many fans remained standing throughout the show.
Petty takes a solid and reasoned approach to the questionable idea of a greatest-hits concert. Unlike Prince’s hit parade on Summerfest’s opening night, on which he played only snippets of his hits, Petty delivered the old gold in full-length takes, sometimes even pushing familiar hits into extended-jam terrain.
In fact, the most notable difference between this show and the last one had nothing to do with Petty’s sound but with his look: Sporting a full Grizzly Adams golden beard, Petty’s appearance and onstage demeanor was radically different: no longer boyish but representative of the classic rock veteran he is (though he’s still young at heart; he married a 37-year-old woman named Dana York on June 3 in Las Vegas).
After all those well-known opening hits, Petty went into the folksy and slightly obscure ballad “Billy the Kid” before resuming a more upbeat pace with “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.”
Also familiar with Milwaukee fans were Petty’s Heartbreakers, featuring guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench and Milwaukee native Howie Epstein on bass.
The set’s few surprises included “Here Comes My Girl” and “Even the Losers,” neither standard live material for Petty in recent years.
The band busted out on “It’s Good to be King,” with Petty trading lengthy solos with Campbell before letting Tench improvise atop a few verses with some cello-sampled keyboard runs.
During an acoustic portion of the show, Petty led the crowd through a mass singalong rendition of “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” Then came the biggest surprise: a spirited take of “Green Onions” by Booker T. and the MG’s, followed by an extended version of Petty’s psychedelic pop hit, “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”
Petty veered back to unplugged mode on “Learning to Fly” before the band re-emerged for “Into the Great Wide Open.” “Refugee” also came during the later part of the regular set; deadline prevented a review of the encore.
Opening the show was Jackson Browne, the ’70s California singer-songwriter-rocker who, along with the Eagles and other practitioners of the “California sound,” helped create the blueprint for the rootsy pop-rock that’s considered “country” nowadays. Browne’s 45-minute set found him solemnly strumming through all the staples of his catalog — “Running on Empty” and “The Pretender” included — before closing with “Doctor My Eyes.”