Tom Petty: ‘The Heartbreakers have always been a live band first…’

Where the Blood Gets Spilled
By JC Costa

The Live Anthology
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Shoreline Gold LLC, Reprise Records

A judicious compilation of live performances dating back to March of 1980 at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: The Live Anthology­­could easily serve as a primer for what defines great American rock and roll.

As quoted in this four-CD collection’s notes, Petty believes “the Heartbreakers have always been a live band first,” because “that’s where the blood gets spilled.”

In that spirit, this anthology captures actually happens on stage with a full-blooded band in perfect motion and synchronicity working their way through exceptionally well made songs with an intuitive balance of harmonies, instrumental commentary and spontaneous magic as they engage their audiences.

Petty goes on to point out that Anthology was not conceived as the familiar record business gambit, “The Greatest Hits Played Faster,” and was sequenced not by chronology or chart position, but for mood and effect with “no overdubs or fixes.”

In fact, the transition is seamless between an inspired performance of “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)” recorded in June of ’81 at the Forum in LA to the long tongue in cheek recitative, “It’s Good to Be King” from a 2006 show at hometown O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida.

Strictly speaking, this is a Tom Petty anthology since it includes seminal songs such as “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” all from Petty’s 1989 solo disc, Full Moon Fever, along with material from Traveling Wilburys and Mudcrutch, other side band projects.  Underscoring Petty’s Greatest Hits argument is the fact that Heartbreakers staples like “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “I Need to Know” and “Listen to Her Heart” are not included in the collection.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream,’ live in Hamburg, 1999

A critical aspect of Anthology are lucid covers of classics like Van Morrison’s “Mystic Eyes,” Peter Green’s “Oh Well,” Booker T’s “Green Onions,”  “Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” Dave Clark’s “Any Way You Want It,” Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man” and “Diddy Wah Diddy,” and James Brown’s “Good Good Lovin’.

As Petty notes early on, “Sometimes the covers we played revealed more about who the Heartbreakers are and how we think musically than the songs that became hits.” This also explains why Anthology includes a live version of Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air” (culled from an MCA Greatest Hits package to end a contract and allow him to move on to Warner Reprise), Rod Argent’s ¾ time vamp “I Want You Back Again” and the somewhat mystifying inclusion of a twangy rethink of Bricusse-Newley’s “Goldfinger” theme.

The four discs of Anthology (also available as a seven-LP vinyl set and an Ultimate Collector’s Edition with five CDs, two DVDs, Blu-Ray and vinyl, the latter which takes us into the retrospective overkill territory of the voluminous Neil Young Archives) is a compelling voyage throughout Petty’s and our pasts, with small and large moments along the way.

The band at a peak of youthful energy and confidence, tearing through “Even the Losers” and “Here Comes My Girl” at the Hammersmith Odeon in March, 1980. A year later, Petty working the crowd like a surgeon on the goofy call and response of “A Thing About You” at the Forum. Just when the whole thing starts to get tedious, he throws some nonsense syllables at the crowd to keep them (and us) from taking any of it too seriously, one of his saving graces over an exceptional career.

Or the perfect balance of anarchy and control on his and guitarist, co-composer, orchestrator and kindred spirit Mike Campbell’s Yardbirds-referenced rave up during the ride out on “I’m A Man.”

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, ‘I Won’t Back Down,’ live, November, 23, 1991, Reno, NV

And some of us will never tire of hearing his re-imagination of the lyrical mood and tension in “Breakdown,” where the crowd, as they do on other favorites, spontaneously join in on the choruses. Unrecorded songs “Driving Down to Georgia” and “Melinda” reveal new dimensions to the band, with Benmont Tench’s orchestral piano and Hammond organ, and Mike Campbell’s unerringly musical and passionate guitar playing coming into high relief as Petty’s long-standing collaborators.

Another surprise is the band’s reinterpretation of Garcia/Hunter’s “Friend of the Devil” at the Fillmore in San Francisco, a respectful and understanding appreciation of the Dead that easily bridges the differences between the bands and eras they played in. Same goes for “Jammin’ Me,” (co-written with Dylan) later on in the same set or a sparkling treatment of the country gem, “Louisiana Rain.”

As someone who likes to play Petty songs, I’ve always had a predilection for “Runnin’ Down a Dream” (this one a particularly kick ass version from a 2006 Tour performance in Gainesville) based on its hypnotic nine-note guitar riff off of the E-D chord progression, powerhouse A-G-E, E-G-A bridge section resolving into a triumphant C-D-E chord during the ride out. For me this is what rock and roll is all about, now and forever.

Ultimately, Anthology succeeds because, in Petty’s own words, “This collection had to be about a band at work, a band capable of thinking on its feet.”

Buy it at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024