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Tom Petty – The Live Anthology

December 21, 2009

You take it on faith/You take it to the heart/The waiting is the hardest part.

If there’s one thing that can be said for Tom Petty, it’s that he’s reliable. From his 1977 self-titled “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers” to his reunion with Mudcrutch in 2008, little has changed. His voice sounds pretty much the same. He hasn’t deviated a lot lyrically or musically, all of which is a very good thing. Tom Petty, much like Bruce Springsteen, has become rock and roll Americana; a classic rock radio staple who continues to remain relevant. Never has this been proven more accurate than the recently released four CD collection of live tracks, spanning 1978 to 2007.

The more appropriate question is what isn’t here, because what is here is played well–so well as to not only stand alongside of each song’s studio counterpart, but in many cases, best it. From the hard rock opening of “Nightwatchment” to the finale, a tender lullaby-ish “Alright For Now,” this is a live set for the ages. Several songs are stretched beyond the radio single’s few minute allottment. “Melida” is keyboardst Benmont Tench’s showcase, while “Refugee” gives guitarist Mike Campbell a chance to jam beyond the studio recording’s restrictions. “Southern Accents” is relieved of it’s overproduction, turned into a minimalist, yet far more emotional rendition. “Learning To Fly” is reworked to a quieter arrangement, allowing the crowd to intimately sing the chorus for Petty nearing the song’s conclusion. “I Won’t Back Down” sounds like two guys on a porch who just happened to have a keyboard player close by.

The covers are wonderfully done. Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah Diddy,” Booker T. & the M.G.’s “Green Onions, and the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil,”
all played with Tom Petty’s trademark ease, confidence, Dylan-esque voice, and not without a sly wink.

And then the hits. “American Girl,” “Here Comes My Girl,” “Even the Losers,” “Running Down a Dream,”– everything that makes one find salvation in rock and roll to begin with. “Free Fallin’,” with an audience singing the chorus at the top of its collective lungs, soars majestically here. “Breakdown” gains more of a swagger than the studio version. “Jammin’ Me” is performed with near reckless abandon, on the verge of falling apart from the weight of its own intensity, yet held together by Petty’s steady hand.

Tom Petty hasn’t short-changed his fanbase with extensive greatest hits collections, yet waiting for a live retrospective may have been the hardest part. With this four CD live set, the wait has been well worth it. There’s nothing resembling a throwaway or filler. If it weren’t for artists such as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers playing, almost asserting, rock and roll during the disco era, music may have gone down a far different road.

I shudder to think.

Five out of five stars.

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