Pack Up The Plantation: Live!

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

MCA, 1986

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Of the many things to enjoy about Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ 1986 live double-disc set Pack Up The Plantation, my favorite is simply the first 60 seconds of the album.  Petty and band, avowed Byrds fans who made a career of melding Roger McGuinn and company’s trademark guitar jangle with their own fierce brand of rock and roll, open with “So You Want To A Rock And Roll Star,” and with every muscular chord and assertive beat you feel the very history of rock and roll flowing through the song from Elvis to the Beach Boys to “Eight Miles High” to Damn The Torpedoes, and even to the desperate depths of soulless corporate 80s rock from which a handful of albums like this one emerged like swords rising from the water.

Coming on the heels of 1985’s Southern Accents LP, this live album might have been expected to concentrate on recent material, but It’s a rich and diverse setlist with three cuts from the band’s self-titled 1976 debut and a generous helping of cover tunes.  And truly, hearing golden classics like “Rock And Roll Star,” the Gerry Goffin-Carole King nugget “Don’t Bring Me Down,” the Isley Brothers’ “Shout” and the Everly Brothers/John Sebastian hit “Stories We Could Tell” played by a band with the Heartbreakers’ expert chops and acute appreciation for rock history is quite a treat.

Beyond the novelty of cover songs, though, some very special moments are captured here.  For one, the way this version of “The Waiting” lives up to its name as Petty holds off the full-band bust-in until later in the song, singing the whole first verse and chorus with just my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Mike Campbell’s guitar backing him, letting the tension build and build before finally bursting free with the Heartbreakers in full flight behind him.  For another, the way the band lets one of the great song openings in rock history -- the dirty, snaking electric piano riff that starts “Breakdown” -- linger and repeat until the crowd fairly goes nuts waiting for Petty to start singing, whereupon they sing along so loud that he simply gives up on the first chorus and lets the crowd sing it note for note, adding only his own typically laconic coda: “You’re gonna put me out of a job.”  And again in the same song, after Campbell’s scorching solo, when the band lays back comfortably in the song’s monster groove while Petty goes off on a rambling, intense scat-singing monologue that only bolsters the song’s primal narrative drive.

Not everything works, of course.  “American Girl,” one of my favorite Petty tunes in its studio form, gets a less-than stellar reading here, its dynamic guitar-drum interplay still present, but marred by distracting horn accents.  This song was meant to be played raw and the horns are subtraction by addition.  They are integrated better on “Refugee,” but still feel unnecessary.

On the flip side, Petty’s duet with guest Stevie Nicks on “Insider,” reprising their pairing from the Hard Promises album, is better live than the original, less cluttered and more focused on the intertwining of their two very complementary voices.  Their cover of “Needles And Pins” is similarly luminous, even if it seems misplaced as track #2 on this album.

The two tracks from Southern Accents, the title track and “Rebels,” both come off as strong, positive assertions of the band’s Florida roots that only feel at all edgy when you look at the booklet visuals and see the band was performing them in front of a giant Confederate flag.  Times have changed, haven’t they? 

By the time “Don’t Bring Me Down” arrives with the encores, the band is ready to have some fun, infusing the introspective original with a primal “Born To Be Wild” stomp that’s only accentuated by Benmont Tench’s swirling, shredding organ and Stan Lynch’s hard-as-nails backbeat.  “Shout” is all the giddy double-time audience-baiting fun it should always and forever be, and “Stories We Could Tell” puts a pleasantly elegiac finish to the evening.

In the end Pack Up The Plantation feels somewhat incomplete -- not a single track from You’re Gonna Get It or Long After Dark makes the setlist, and a number of singles and key album tracks are absent -- but for what it is, it’s a lot of fun.  Bottom line, Plantation is worth buying just for “So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star” and “Breakdown” -- consider the rest a bonus.

Rating: B+

User Rating: B+


© 2008 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA, and is used for informational purposes only.