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Review: Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers' 'The Live Anthology'

November 25, 2009 |  6:37 pm

TOM_PETTY_LAT_6

It's invigorating to see musical veterans make the most of new opportunities. Earlier this year Neil Young issued the "Archives, Vol. I," a massive box set that utilized Blu-ray technology to give fans comprehensive access to 10 discs' worth of Young's early material.

Tom Petty, another classic rocker, has assembled an impressive collection of his live work with his band the Heartbreakers that's similar in spirit to Young's remarkable anthology if not quite as expansive.

At its simplest, "The Live Anthology" is a four-CD set featuring 48 live tracks that span the Florida rocker's career from 1978 through 2007. That version is a bargain, listing for $24.98 and available for less than $20 at Amazon.com and elsewhere. Where things get fun, though, is in the expanded versions that tap into the heightened aural quality of the Blu-ray disc format and the possibilities of the Web.

A box set being offered as a retail exclusive at Best Buy and on Petty’s official fan club site -- listing for $149.98 but discounted to just under $100 -- fleshes out the basic box with a 14-track fifth CD and one audio-only Blu-ray disc. The Blu-ray disc is said to be the first of its kind using only the audio capability of the high-end audio-visual system and includes all 62 tracks in high-resolution stereo and 5.1 surround sound.

The bigger box also has two DVDs, one with a never-released documentary on the group's 1995 "Wildflowers" tour by director Martyn Atkins, the other containing audio and video from the band's 1978 New Year's Eve show at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. There's also an LP of an "Official Live 'Leg" bootleg album. 

Petty gives further consideration to old-school analogists by way of a seven-LP version of the set, but he doesn't neglect devotees of the digital domain either. For $24.98, fans can stream the 48 songs live or download them either as MP3 files or higher-quality FLAC (free lossless audio codec) files.

Through the "Anthology" website, users also get access to ancillary materials, which include liner notes, archival photos, facsimiles of recording session notes and commentary on the tracks by Petty, keyboardist Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell.

In one audio clip, Campbell describes playing "Here Comes My Girl" to a London audience in 1980, just as the "Refugee" album was about to elevate the quintet from headlining clubs and theaters to arenas: "One thing I love about these recordings from that period is Tom's voice is so young and high and excited. You can tell that the band is just starting to feel like we're going to make it, and we could feel it and the audience could feel it."

The thrust of the project is to document and celebrate the Heartbreakers' chemistry together onstage, since its recorded legacy has been well chronicled in a 1995 six-CD box set "Playback" and then in more concise form in the 34-track double CD, 2000's "Anthology: Through the Years."

"The Live Anthology" does a superb job on that front. Petty and the Heartbreakers earned their place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame not by being larger-than-life figures like the Rolling Stones or the Who, or by dazzling with Dylanesque rock poetry or by elevating the human spirit a la Van Morrison or U2.

They made their mark by being the kind of band for which anything goes on any given night. That might be doing a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil" at the Fillmore in San Francisco or playing Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air" during a 1993 hometown stop in Gainesville, Fla.

They did it by exemplifying the joyful essence -- the sense of individual liberation, musical interdependence and communal interconnection -- that is life in a rock 'n' roll band.

-- Randy Lewis

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
"The Live Anthology"
Reprise
Four stars (Out of four)

Photo credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times

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