I cannot believe it, but we are quickly coming upon the four-month anniversary of the death of the rock voice of my life, Tom Petty. I just cannot believe that a superstar like Petty was, who seemed to be so humble and down-to-earth, is gone, leaving many of us without the musical voice for our lives. Tom Petty was blessed with a gift in which it seemed as though he was able to pull chords, melodies and lyrics from the sky and arrange them all within the simplest context so they we mere mortals could sing and dance to them. That man was blessed with the rarest of gifts, and we were all so very lucky that we were able to enjoy everything he gave us to hear.
Over the course of time since his unfortunate passing, I keep coming back to the same album time after time, week after week, month after month. It’s not one of his terrific studio albums. Neither is it his diamond-selling Greatest Hits disc, nor his double-album Anthology nor his definitive six-disc Playback box set. No, I keep reaching for his sprawling box set of five concert discs, one 12″ vinyl EP entitled Official Live ‘Leg, as well as a couple of DVD documentaries and concert performances, not to mention lots of collectible items and knick-knacks. Of all the box sets I own, which is only a hand full or so, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ The Live Anthology is the most extensive box set I own. And, I believe it is the perfect setting for which to base upon Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ liver performances. The best part is that the box set consists of 62 songs, many of which are cover songs that are not found on any of his studio albums.
In other words, The Live Anthology is a Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ live concert motherlode throughout his career. Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell produced the set, so the duo worked especially hard to make live versions from different eras of the band seamlessly segue in order to “fool” the listener into thinking he or she were actually at the five-plus hours of concert recordings.
In addition to some choice cover tunes, such as the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” or Van Morrison’s “Mystic Eyes”, you get a boatload of Petty solo and with-the-Heartbreakers hits. If nothing else, this set makes you forget the disappointment of the band’s previous live album, 1985’s Pack Up the Plantation – Live. Since I was fortunate to have seen Petty three times over the years, I get to relive songs from each of those tours. For instance, the song I remember being one his best on the 1981 ‘Hard Promises’ Tour, the band performed a version of “Breakdown” during which the break into a version of Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack”, then effortlessly coming back to end the original song. That moment was one of many highlights of my first Tom Petty concert. Or, I can relive the 1983 ‘Long After Dark’ Tour with that rockin’ version of ‘Refugee’. And, that’s just from the first disc in this five-CD, two-DVD, one vinyl EP box set. Unfortunately, this box set does not document the big 2009 Tour celebration of the band’s greatness that began with their great half-time appearance at the Super Bowl. Yet, for me, that is a minor issue, since every other tour is represented throughout the five CDs worth of live material.
Since Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers were one of the greatest live bands in rock history, they were a perfect choice to perform at the Super Bowl and to have this extensive of a live anthology box set that was released near the end of 2009. Live is THE way to best enjoy Tom Petty’s songwriting ability, and the Heartbreakers were the best musicians to bring his music to life. I sure hope that Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell can bring some of the band’s more recent tours to the public with a second Live Anthology.
Until that happens, we have this fantastic 62-song “concert” recording to help us ease the pain of Tom Petty’s passing. I hope Tom no longer feels like a “Refugee” and has found the peace that alluded him during his time on earth. Thanks for the musical memories!