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Review: Petty basks in the sunshine
By Dave Tianen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — Monday, July 1, 2002
Sample of new album promising
Several years ago, I ventured into a music store in search of a Roger McGuinn album. When teenager clerk No. 1 professed complete mystification, teenage clerk No. 2 came to the rescue.
“You know,” he said, “that guy who sounds like Tom Petty.”
Tom Petty would certainly enjoy that story because Roger McGuinn was a major influence of his, and when Petty reached back into the mist Sunday night at Summerfest for an oldie like “Here Comes My Girl,” you’re reminded of how much jangly impact the Byrds had on Petty.
But they are certainly not the sum of his art because like all the best rockers, he has taken his influences and made them his own.
There’s a new Petty and the Heartbreakers album due out this fall, and Petty shared a sampling with the Summerfest crowd. It seems like a promising project.
“Lost Children” has the feel of a musical prayer that blends snatches of wah-wah guitar with an almost hushed delivery. “Have Love Will Travel” smacks of the kind of plaintive country ballad that Levon Helm always prospered with.
Always a playful presence on stage, Petty seemed in exceptional spirits Sunday. Not even a cranky amplifier that held up the show for five minutes in the middle of his set would derail his good mood. When they finally got things back into working order, Petty burst into an impromptu rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” that had the crowd singing along. Later in the evening, “Learning to Fly” actually closed with a birdcall.
Although he came out rocking hard, I thought the evening’s best stretch came in the middle. The almost pensive “It’s Good To Be King” got a surprisingly extension treatment with both Mike Campbell and Petty stretching out on guitar but without the kind of showy dynamics that usually implies in a rock concert. When Petty leans back on his southern roots, he often evokes the rough-hewn beauty of Dylan’s gunfighter sagas or acoustic Neil Young.
One minor quibble. For some reason, they dispensed with the projection screens Sunday. In a house the size of the Marcus, the screens should be semi-mandatory.
Opening for Petty was Brian Setzer. The swing fad has swung out the door, and so Setzer has returned to his hepcat ways with a rockabilly trio. Setzer may want you to believe he’s just an old alley cat, but there’s always been a restless musical intelligence lurking beneath that towering blond pompadour. There was plenty of fast and hard rockabilly Sunday. “Rock This Town” and Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” were highlights, but Setzer also picked up a banjo for a straight-up run at John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind.”
To prove he’s also a Nashville cat, he later had a go at Chet Atkin’s “Guitar Rag.” Of course, being Setzer, he sounded like Atkins after four or five cans of Joly.
There’s also more than a bit of jazzer to Setzer. His radical reinvention of Santo & Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” was the kind of trip you can make only if you can improvise in your sleep.