Live At The Fillmore, 1997

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Warner, 2022

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Tom Petty’s untimely death in October 2017 was rough on the community of loved ones, friends and fans that had over the years coalesced around him, his band the Heartbreakers, and the music they made together. There was pain and frustration as family members struggled for control over the creative portion of Petty’s estate, and melancholy as band members searched out new paths while trying to both grieve and honor their friend. You know all of these folks have to have been eager to move through this difficult period and discover some kind of solace, maybe even joy.

The first big step in this direction was 2020’s long-awaited Wildflowers And All The Rest boxed set, a long-imagined expansion of Petty’s much-loved 1994 solo album to encompass all of the material initially recorded for it. The second arrived in late November in the form of Live At The Fillmore 1997, which in its boxed set form encompasses four full CDs and 58 live recordings taken from Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ celebrated 20-night residency at The Fillmore in San Francisco. It is everything you could have hoped for and more.

The Fillmore residency was a remarkable run of shows not so much for what Petty and the band didn’t play, which was substantial portions of their catalog, but for what they did, which was a combination of familiar hits—many retooled in imaginative ways—and a kaleidoscopic range of cover tunes. The cover tunes chosen put on full display both the band’s virtuosic skills as interpreters of others’ songs and their gourmand’s taste for not just rock and roll, but the full range of the popular music that they grew up on. (At this point in time the Heartbreakers’ lineup included Mike Campbell on guitar, Benmont Tench on keyboards, Howie Epstein on bass and harmony vocals, Steve Ferrone on drums, and Scott Thurston on guitars, keys and harmony vocals.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The sheer number of songs included on this voluptuously proportioned and magnificently packaged set makes mentioning them all impractical, but suffice it to say, the highlights are ever-present. There are affectionate takes on Petty nuggets like “Listen To Her Heart” and “Free Fallin’,” enthusiastic versions of then-recent tunes like “Walls” and “Angel Dream,” as well as revelatory, stripped-down acoustic renditions of classics like “Even The Losers” and “American Girl.”

What comes through on the latter, as well as on a laundry list of phenomenal covers, is the players’ sheer giddiness at what they’re doing with numbers like “Time Is On My Side” (memorably covered by the Rolling Stones) and the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”; they’re having a blast exploring their own roots and firing on all cylinders musically. Still, it was 90 seconds into the instrumental that closes out disc two when I started laughing out loud as I realized that yes, indeed, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers are actually playing the theme to Goldfinger, wearing what one can only imagine were the giddiest of grins. When they roll out the novelty tune “Heartbreakers Beach Party,” rather than being a throwaway, it’s the topic sentence for this entire exercise: We’re throwing a party, we’re gonna play whatever the hell we feel like, and you’re all invited.

This album is the sound of freedom.

There are a dozen other WTF moments—lead vocals by Scott Thurston on one of the covers, and Benmont Tench singing the first song he ever wrote for the band, to name two—and some very notable guests sitting in. Roger McGuinn shows up for a four-song set that culminates in a muscular, transcendent rendition of “Eight Miles High,” while John Lee Hooker sits in for three songs, finishing with an authoritative run at “Boogie Chillen.”

Best of all, the set—produced by longtime Petty collaborator Ryan Ulyate and right-hand-man Mike Campbell—includes many examples of Petty’s between-song comments to the audience, giving the whole thing an I-was-there vibe, while making clear in purely human terms what a good time the ringmaster of this particular rock and roll circus was having. By the time they wrap up with traditional closer “Alright For Now,” the band has covered classics as hoary as “Bye Bye Johnny” (Chuck Berry), “Shakin’ All Over” (Johnny Kidd/The Who), “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (the Rolling Stones), and “Gloria” (Van Morrison), which Petty stretches out to ten minutes via a lengthy, witty mid-song theater-of-the-mind monologue.

And there honestly isn’t much more to say. Petty himself said the 1997 Fillmore run might have been the band’s high point, and the evidence made available via this release does nothing to dispute that contention. Every serious Petty fan needs Live At The Fillmore 1997 and any casual Petty fan can find an abundance of moments here to enjoy. This set is simply glorious, a celebration of everything we ever loved about Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and still do. 

Rating: A

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