“Wouldn’t it be great if just for one moment, everything was all right?”
So asks Tom Petty of his audience during a 2006 Berkeley, California concert rendition of Van Morrison’s “Mystic Eyes.” The cover song closes out the second disc in a new four-CD set, “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: The Live Anthology.”
Spanning the length of the rocker’s considerable career, the collection is jam-packed with 48 phenomenal live concert tracks, hand-picked for inclusion by Petty himself. And that’s just the basic package, which lists for $24.99. A deluxe version of the Nov. 23 release includes a fifth CD, two DVDs, a “Wildflowers”-era documentary, a re-mastered vinyl 1976 bootleg, and an additional blu-ray audio disc of all the concert tracks.
It took Petty an entire year to cull through the massive vault of live recordings piled up from 30 years of tour dates with his Heartbreakers. Aided by long-time lead guitarist Mike Campbell, he decided not to arrange the tracks in chronological order, opting instead to string together concert versions of the Heartbreakers’ hits, rarities and some delightful if surprising covers, in a progression that “felt right,” as he explains in the liner notes.
“We sequenced the songs as we would any other recording, thinking about mood first,” he writes, “… one musical and emotional moment leading to the next.”
Petty also decided that none of the recordings would be overdubbed or fixed to perfection. Not that there is much to fix at a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert. The band is one of America’s touring best, hitting it out of the amphitheatre every time.
The result of Petty’s year-long selection process is a gallery of sparkling gems on display, seamlessly set side by side, many of which were previously unavailable to all but the most diehard bootleg traders. The collection has been well-received, garnering 4-1/2 stars from both the Rolling Stone magazine staff and iTunes users.
Those yet uninitiated to the Heartbreakers’ concert scene will appreciate live versions of the band’s standards, including a 1983 recording of the crowd-pleasing rock anthem “American Girl,” a killer 1981 cut of “Breakdown” with extended vocals, and a dreamy jam-infused 2006 performance of “It’s Good to Be King.”
But it’s the rarities and carefully chosen cover songs that make “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: The Live Anthology” extra special to a legion of fans who have followed Petty and his crew throughout the Heartbreakers’ 30-year career. It’s been a long time since fans heard Petty originals such as “Drivin’ Down to Georgia,” “Nightwatchman,” “My Life Your World” or “Alright for Now” in concert.
The band has long been known to give selected covers the Heartbreaker treatment during their live shows, and a concert anthology wouldn’t be complete without them. Included in the set is a hard-hitting early Fleetwood Mac tune, “Oh Well,” a jangly Grateful Dead track, “Friend of the Devil,” a “Diddy Wah Diddy” blues tribute to Bo Diddley, and a surprising, plucky rendition of the James Bond theme, “Goldfinger.”
Said Heartbreaker treatment has refined itself organically over the years. The crux of the band – Petty, Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench – has been making music together since the very start. Petty writes in the liner notes that sometimes the covers the band performed revealed more about who his group was, and is, than the hits ever did.
The front man recently told Rolling Stone that the legendary Johnny Cash once told him they were in a noble profession, music, because music makes so many people happy.
“I would give that to you, babe. I would give you a moment, where everything is all right,” Petty croons in promise on the 2006 Van Morrison cover. It’s a promise he and the Heartbreakers have delivered time and time again as many fans who’ve seen the group live can attest.
Thanks, Mr. Petty. You’ve given so many of us those moments, so many of us from the front row all the way back to the lawn seats. During a Heartbreakers show, the world stops for a couple of hours and everything is, indeed, all right.
And “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: The Live Anthology” is a must-have, worth-every-penny, happy reminder.