The Live Anthology

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Reprise, 2009

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


“The Heartbreakers have always been a live band first,” says Tom Petty in the introduction to this set’s liner notes. And indeed, while their studio albums provide obvious markers in time and the rhythm section changed a bit over the years, as a unit the Heartbreakers enjoyed a remarkably steady and productive 40-year lifespan.

Beyond chronicling the band’s prowess, though, the generous four-disc Live Anthology serves as a definitive, nearly comprehensive overview of TP And The Heartbreakers in a live setting, inasmuch as the band’s only other authorized live recording, 1986’s double-disc Pack Up The Plantation, only covered the first decade of their recording career.

The big twist here comes in the sequencing: “[W]e threw out the idea of ordering the songs chronologically…We sequenced the songs as we would any other recording, thinking about mood first.” The result is that each disc is its own jumble of times and places and songs, going—much like the band itself—by feel rather than any strict logic. Disc one, for example, opens with the relatively obscure “Nightwatchman” (from 1982’s Long After Dark) and contains 14 songs lifted from shows in three different decades (’80s, ’90s, ’00s) in three different countries (the US, Canada, the UK), pulling nine familiar tracks from five different studio albums, plus three covers and two otherwise unreleased TP songs.

The covers are a natural point of interest throughout this set; as TP says “Sometimes the covers we played revealed more about who the Heartbreakers are and how we think musically than the songs that became hits.” From soul (Bobby Womack’s “I’m In Love”) to British Invasion (Rod Argent’s “I Want You Back”) to early rock (Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man,” Booker T’s “Green Onions” and the Dave Clark Five’s “Any Way You Want It”) to deep blues (Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want To Make Love To You”) to the Grateful Dead (“Friend Of The Devil”), Van Morrison (“Mystic Eyes”), Fleetwood Mac (“Oh Well”) and Mr. James Brown (“Good Good Lovin’”), TP and the Heartbreakers demonstrate again and again that they are genuine connoisseurs of rock and roll and all the individual musical threads it brought together. Every cover gets a bit of a TP/HB spin, of course, but they never sound like less than natural extensions of the band’s musical aesthetic, which manages to be both reverent toward its forebears and sharply distinct.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The hits are all here, of course, played with vigor and flair. As much fun as it is hearing the likes of “Even The Losers,” “American Girl”, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Free Fallin’” and “The Waiting” played with fire by the band that created them, though, the secondary tracks reveal more about the depth and breadth of Petty’s musical back catalog. You expect “I Won’t Back Down” to shine, even in a slowed-down acoustic version featured here, but pairing it with an acoustic rendering of the obscurity “Square One” from 2006 solo disc Highway Companion takes both songs to a new and different place.

Similarly, the inclusion of shimmering, authoritative versions of “Dreamville” and “Have Love Will Travel” from 2002’s The Last DJ album underscores the way they outshone the rest of that oft-derided release. “Century City” has never sounded better than when presented as an encore here, dripping with snarling attitude and driving like a mother. Finally, before listening to this set it never would have occurred to me that the gentle, nearly hymn-like “Alright For Now,” a deep cut buried on the back end of Full Moon Fever, makes a superb closer, all the more touching now that TP himself has departed this earth.

Other notes… The previously unreleased Petty tracks—“Drivin’ Down To Georgia,” “Lost Without You,” “Melinda” and “Surrender”—amount to cool little diversions that add to the band’s historical record, though none feel like an improvement over the songs that beat them out for TP’s various studio albums. Several familiar tracks get extended workouts—none more expansive than a 12-minute take on “It’s Good To Be King”—but the jams and breakdowns all feel organic and remind you what a gifted, fluid unit the Heartbreakers have always been.

At 48 tracks and nearly four hours of music, Live Anthology might seem at first glance like a little bit too much of a good thing, but if you’re even a passing fan, this set entertains thoroughly with its diversity and digressions into classic covers and unreleased material. Expecting to spread my first listen over several days, I found myself captivated enough to blast all the way through this set in just a couple of extended sittings. It’s a mandatory purchase for Petty-philes and, for anyone else, a graduate seminar in 20th century American rock and roll.

Rating: A-

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