Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: The Live Anthology

RIYL: The Byrds, Bob Dylan, Kings of Leon

Tom Petty set the standard for greatest hits compilations in 1993 when he released the aptly-titled Greatest Hits, which included 16 of his biggest singles, a soon-to-be-smash (“Mary Jane’s Last Dance”), and a very worthwhile cover (Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air”). While some might argue that 1983’s “Change of Heart” (peaking at #21) and 1987’s “Jammin’ Me” (#18) were technically bigger hits than some of the singles that were included, no Petty fan worth his salt is going to argue that those two tunes held up better than the likes of “Listen to Her Heart” (#59) or “Here Comes My Girl” (#59).

Fast forward two years to Petty’s first box set, 1995’s Playback, which was a hodgepodge of hit singles, live tracks and rarities. The set wasn’t very cohesive, but it was important because of its excellent sixth disc (“Nobody’s Children”), which featured 11 leftover tracks from 1986 to 1993 – maybe the most productive span of Petty’s career.

Then there was 2000’s Anthology: Through the Years, which was essentially an expansion of the Greatest Hits disc, though, oddly enough, it didn’t include anything from post-Greatest Hits albums Wildflowers (“You Don’t Know How It Feels,” “It’s Good to Be King,” “You Wreck Me”), She’s The One (“Walls”) or Echo (“Free Girl Now,” “Room At the Top”).

petty live

So now we have The Live Anthology, which comes in several different formats – the standard set (48 tracks on 4 CDs), the deluxe set (62 tracks on 5 CDs, including a 14-track bonus disc, two DVDs, a Blu-Ray disc, a vinyl re-master of of the ’76 Official Live Leg, and more, only available at Best Buy), and a vinyl deluxe box set (51 tracks pressed on seven 180-gram audiophile quality vinyl LPs). This review is of the digital version of the standard set, which is the first live release from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers since 1986’s Pack Up the Plantation-Live!

Eleven songs in the set are live versions of tracks included on both Greatest Hits and Anthology. (Think big hits like “Refugee” and “American Girl.”) Most of these tracks are relatively faithful interpretations of the studio versions, save for the beautiful “Learning to Fly” and “I Won’t Back Down,” which Petty often plays in concert with a much sparser production. Both tunes are well worth a listen.

Nine album tracks from The Live Anthology also made my recommended Tom Petty Deep Cuts playlist, and are welcome additions here. It’s hard to pick favorites, but it’s nice to see “Angel Dream (No. 2)” and “Have Love Will Travel” get some live love, and “Dreamville” is an especially impressive live performance. “Southern Accents” is vastly improved from the album version since it’s without the irritating, echoing cross stick that was used in the studio.

Considering that the set has been culled together from hundreds of hours of live recordings from 1979 to 2007, the most impressive thing is how cohesive each disc sounds when played start to finish. It’s almost as if the listener gets four individual, hour-long sets from the Heartbreakers. The band has never been afraid to dive into a cover or two, as evidenced by the the presence of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” the Zombies’ “I Want You Back Again,” Booker T. and the MGs “Green Onions,” the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil,” the Dave Clark Five’s “Any Way You Want It” and more.

The Live Anthology is by no means definitive, but it provides a good, in-depth look at one of the greatest live acts of the last thirty years. Moreover, it’s available at the band’s website for $18.49, which is a nice deal for almost four hours of music. (Reprise, 2009)


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