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Lofty set from 'Free Fallin' rocker; Lone Star Jam swelters, but venue is quite cool

Peter Mongillo, Music Source

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Tom Petty is one of those musicians who doesn't really need to go above and beyond in order to please his fans. He's one of the bigger working rock stars today, having produced hit after hit since the mid-1970s. People are going to sing along to "Free Fallin' " regardless of whether it's the best version of the song they've ever heard.

And yet on Saturday night at the Erwin Center, Petty played like he had something to prove. Despite plentiful rock 'n' roll clichés — "we're so happy to finally be back in Austin," "we're going to dig deep tonight" (the set list has been more or less the same every night on the tour, with a few exceptions), "I just realized we haven't played anything off our second album" — he found ways throughout to make it seem as if the Austin show were THE special show of the tour.

Right from the start, Petty played with rock star swagger, leaning into the mike and waving to the audience on opener "Listen to Her Heart," shaking his hips on "You Wreck Me," hanging on the end of lines in "Here Comes My Girl" and busting out his bluesy drawl for "Spike."

The Traveling Wilburys' "Handle With Care" felt like a victory lap, more rock than the original, with keyboardist/guitarist Scott Thurston jumping in on the chorus. Much of the rest of the set had a more down-and-dirty feel to it, with the blues of "Lover's Touch" followed by a rowdy version of Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man," where a tambourine-wielding Petty growled out his lines like he was in a dingy club as opposed to a basketball stadium.

Of course, Petty doesn't do it alone. The Heartbreakers are masters at what they do, especially guitarist Mike Campbell, who shined throughout the night regardless of whether he was adding Jerry Garcia-style flourishes or standing at the front of the stage, spitting out arena rock solos. Their ability to transform the not-quite-greatest-hits — "It's Good To Be King" — into epic jams elevated the evening.

The night ended with four of the band's biggest hits: "Refugee" and "Runnin' Down A Dream" followed by a two-song encore of "Mary Jane's Last Dance" and "American Girl." They didn't play every hit, but they played enough of them to leave the arena screaming.

Lone Star at LBJ. Overheard at the gate for Saturday's Lone Star Jam: "Do you have any towels?"

The annual country music fest, which moved to a new location this year on the LBJ Lawn at the University of Texas, might have benefited from some. The midafternoon temperature rose to 97 degrees, according to the giant thermometer on the northbound side of Interstate 35, making the shade of the trees lining the stairs at the new(ish) venue a popular destination.

Still, the music went on, with plenty of hands in the air for country-rock act Whiskey Myers, who tore through a set heavy on gritty guitar work owing more to Skynyrd and the Allmans than Nashville FM, as well as a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Green River."

Despite the heat, the LBJ Lawn, which hosted a set from Mumford and Sons and others during South by Southwest, seemed to work just fine, sound-wise and otherwise (at least during the afternoon hours), for an event such as the Lone Star Jam. Because of space limitations, it's not about to replace the under-construction Waterloo Park, but, yeah, there's another field in Austin that works for a small festival.

Belmont reopens. The bar/restaurant on West Sixth Street, which abruptly closed in September, has new owners who recently completed $800,000 in renovations. The focus now is on live music. The stage's size has been doubled, and the sound and lighting systems have been upgraded. Though the Belmont will no longer double as a restaurant, grub will still be available from a rotating selection of food trucks. Happy hour runs from 3:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, with drinks available at discounted prices.

Upcoming performances include Wild Child with Sorne (Thursday), DJ Bird Peterson (Friday), and Salt N Pepa with God-Des & She (Saturday). See more at austin360.com/music.

– Gary Dinges

In brief: Sarah Jarosz, who played Old Settler's Fest a few weeks ago, is heading out on the road for a few dates as the opening act for Vince Gill. She's also playing her own shows elsewhere in North America (including Bonnaroo) and Europe. ... DJ and former Austin resident Jonathan Toubin, who had to relearn how to walk after nearly being crushed to death when a car slammed into his Portland hotel room in December, made his return with a show in Brooklyn on Sunday. Among other things, the accident left Toubin with severe hearing loss and no movement in his hands. He's scheduled to play Aug. 4 at Red 7. ... Austin's Riverboat Gamblers released a new single, "Comedians," from their upcoming album "The Wolf You Feed" (out May 22). "Over the last few years, I've spent a lot of time in the comedy scene, and some of my best friends in the world are comedians. I see a through-line between certain kinds of music and comedy," Mike Wiebe tells Rolling Stone.

"The Wall" in Austin. From the opening moments, Roger Waters' live performance last week of the Pink Floyd über-classic "The Wall" had a visceral effect on the adoring audience, who chanted along with the broadcast words from the final scenes of "Spartacus." "I am Spartacus," many shouted, as an unseen trumpet squawked out a plaintive tune that would have been right at home in a Mussolini-era Sicilian funeral.

The Erwin Center's darkness surrendered to a blast of fireworks that lighted up the building as the band exploded into the opening notes of "In the Flesh?" Graham Broad's machine-gun drums fired, and Waters, dressed as a megalomaniacal dictator, took center stage, directing the stagecraft as projected bombers soared across the Wall.

A Tetris-like collection of large white cardboard blocks, the Wall framed the stage and throughout the night served as a projection screen for a series of fascist demands like "Trust Us"; Gerald Scarfe's disturbing psychedelic animations; and recriminations that echoed Apple's branding: iBelieve, iNeed and iFollow. The projected images created a sense of a sense of techno-slavery and mindless duty to capitalism that has helped isolate and placate individuals while drowning out the sounds and sights of a desperate world ravaged by war, selfishness and greed.

The band exhibited a casual and confident ease, as it slid into "The Thin Ice," a singing Waters backed by a collection of brothers and cousins — Mark, Pat and Kip Lennon — who had the chilling presence of a house band on a boat sailing the River Styx.

Stage crew slowly began adding bricks during "Another Brick in the Wall," as members of the Barton Hills Elementary School choir joined the band on stage for the famous chorus, "We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control." Audience members, coaxed by Dave Kilminster's slinking guitar, undoubtedly got back in touch with some of the anti-authoritarianism that first turned them on to the music.

Waters took a break between songs to greet the crowd, an odd bit of piercing the fourth wall that seemed out of place in the fully-realized alternate world created by the show's production. He used the brief interlude to explain that it is a slippery slope when "we give our governments and authorities too much power." There was no shortage of cheers.

— Matthew Odam

Read the complete review and a setlist from the show .