I saw them live in the mid 80s, on the Let Me Up, I've Had Enough tour and thought the band was fantastic but I have never seen TP in concert again. A total pity, as I also rank The Last DJ as one of my favorites of his and I even missed that tour.
But for us couch potatoes and tour skippers, Petty had issued (just in time for Christmas) the four-CD set The Live Anthology. I bought it on iTunes for $24.99 - 52 tracks (including 3 live videos) -- less than .50 a track -- a nice bargain.
The music on this set is awesome. In the liner notes, Petty says he didn't want this to be a "live greatest hits package," meaning "the greatest hits, played faster," so there are some nuggets the band rarely played, like My Life, Your World, and various covers that didn't last in the set list for too long, such as I'm In Love (made semi-famous by Wilson Pickett), a cool version of Friend of the Devil and a 13 minute slow jam version of It's Good to Be King.
You get the hits too, but again, all these versions are excellent. For example, I was thinking I might skip the 7 + minute version of Breakdown, but it's very good. Petty even concedes in the liner notes that they would get carried away with extending the song live, but this 1981 version is a good mellow burner, with the "Hit the Road Jack" middle section being totally off the cuff with the band following Petty's lead.
Petty also said that one of the rules he set for himself in putting this set together was no editing or fixing of anything in the songs, so if there is a mistake, you get that too (I haven't heard any). A big highlight from the first CD is the "Driving Down to Georgia" into "Lost Without You." I heard these on Petty's XM Radio show last week and that was when I decided I would buy this anthology.
The set is not organized chronologically, so it jumps from era to era (read 'bass player/drummer to bass player/drummer'). But it works very well this way - much like a real good live set, it flows energy-wise. The first five or six songs are from the early 80s and then it starts moving around.
The iTunes LP feature is very cool too. You open the window in iTunes and an application pops up that lets you go song by song and read liner notes from Petty about where the version of the song was recorded and his memories of it. It's a neat way to explore the album on your computer.
There seems to be a fairly even mix of early 80s recordings when the band had just broken through, counter balanced by more seasoned performances from the 90s and more recent shows too.
One thing that is constant is the tasty, tasty lead playing of Mike Campbell, one of my favorite lead players of all time, but someone who does not seem to grace the cover of Guitar Player magazine or the top of guitar popularity polls. But really ought to. And the other secret weapon of course is Benmont Tench, the band's Garth Hudson. Check out his gorgeous piano work on Melinda from CD 3. These guys really shine on this set.
For me, the set is yet another return to The Heartbreakers. I recently watched the four-hour Running Down A Dream, which is a fantastic overview of Petty's career. The whole first hour or so is about Mudcrutch and the Heartbreakers and the rise to success. Then in the 90s, Petty gets tight with the Wilburys crowd - Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, etc.
And while this period was the apex of his success and for sure the coolest deal - to hang with all of these flipping legends and write/play music with them - the Heartbreakers got set aside for a while. Of course there has been great work since then, such as the 20-night Fillmore run (many tunes on the Anthology are from those shows), the aforementioned killer album The Last DJ, but it's so great to hear The Heartbreakers shine once again and to hear Petty give props to former members such as drummer Stan Lynch.
All in all, the point of the set is to showcase how good of a live band The Heartbreakers have been all through their career. And damn, they were (are) one of the tightest good little rock outfits to have ever existed. And good grief, why do I also always forget about how good of a songwriter Tom Petty is and has always been? This set proves it without a shadow of a doubt.
52 songs - it's going to take me a while to soak all of this in, but I can strongly suggest buying this set based on my first impressions. I can't see why anyone would not thoroughly enjoy this music.