Friday, May 14, 2010

Tom Petty 17: The Live Anthology

“The Heartbreakers have always been a live band first,” states Tom at the start of his notes for this ambitious brick of a set. And it’s true—while their records have been toss-ups, as a functioning, working band, they’re one of the greatest. He may record with other people, or even by himself from time to time, but anytime he’s gone out on the road to promote his latest piece of plastic, he’s always brought the Heartbreakers. Granted, he did tour with Mudcrutch in 2008, but since that had Benmont and Mike, it’s a moot point, since those guys anchor every one of the tracks here. Anyone who saw them back up Bob Dylan in the mid-‘80s knows how well they can handle what’s thrown at them.
The Live Anthology celebrates their thirty-plus years on the road with about four hours’ worth of recordings from all over the place, pointedly out of chronological order. There’s plenty from the early ‘80s with Ron Blair, and nothing from the tour that produced Pack Up The Plantation. (Stevie Nicks does appear, singing backup on a subdued “Learning To Fly”.) The notes in the booklet insist there are no overdubs, and the booklet gives detailed credits for each track, so you know when that’s Stan Lynch drumming or singing backup, or when it’s Steve Ferrone.
Right there we finally realized what had been missing from the puzzle for going on 20 years: Steve doesn’t play fills. Ever. Stan used to, constantly, and while singing harmonies. That’s one reason why those earlier tracks crackle.
While it’s got a few of the hits, most of those are extended versions; the concentration is much heavier on the songs. There are a lot of deep album cuts here, and a few really good originals not available anywhere else—like “Drivin’ Down To Georgia”, which segues right into the moody “Lost Without You”. And to prove his point about their versatility, covers abound, from the Dave Clark Five’s “Anyway You Want It” and Peter Green’s “Oh Well” to “Green Onions” and even “Goldfinger”. Other highlights include the “Hit The Road, Jack” interlude in “Breakdown”, Benmont’s elegant intro to “A Woman In Love”, and an extended version of “Spike” (from one of their tours backing up Dylan) that includes the entertaining background of the song.
In an act of mind-blowing generosity, The Live Anthology lists for about 25 bucks. Or you can splurge for the $100 deluxe version with an extra CD, a DVD and an LP, which truly benefits from the larger packaging and retro-woodcut graphics. Either way, there’s an awful lot to take in. But you’ll leave feeling happy these guys are still around. After all, the Heartbreakers are truly one of the greatest backing bands in the world (runner-up: the Attractions).

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers The Live Anthology (2009)—4

1 comment:

  1. This is certainly a lot of music to get through, but it’s well worth the effort. This, of course, gives a much better sense of what TP & the Heartbreakers were like as live band than “Pack Up the Plantation”. Of course, everyone will have their quibbles about what should have been included (MIA for me – “Deliver Me”, “Dogs on the Run”, “You Wreck Me”.) Random thoughts:
    “The Wild One, Forever” is transformed from its rather intimate studio version into a big anthem. This makes sense since it’s from the “Damn the Torpedoes” tour.
    “Breakdown” still goes on too long, as does “It’s Good to Be King”(12 minutes? Really?). They really should have included an extended take on “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” instead of the good, but standard, version here.
    “Spike” is from the Bob Dylan tour, when the band got two short sets by themselves. I saw them for the second time on that tour. They went down much better than the (as usual) highly idiosyncratic and inscrutable Dylan.
    “My Life/Your World” is MILES ahead of the stiff studio version. It’s too bad that aren’t more songs from that tour on the album. It makes one wonder what other songs from the album improved in concert.
    The 1993 show from Gainesville (3 songs here) is now available legally. The whole show, which was taped for radio, is truly on of their classic shows.
    Most esoteric cover: “Goldfinger”. Best cover: the amazing “Mystic Eyes”, followed closely by “Oh Well”.
    You get your money’s worth with this album. The only close comparison, maybe, is Springsteen’s live box. This blows that away, as far as I’m concerned.