Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Live Anthology

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It's a commonly held opinion among fans and band alike that Tom Petty the Heartbreakers' lone live album, 1986's Pack Up the Plantation, didn't quite capture the group at its peak, so there has been a long-standing need for another live set, which 2009's Live Anthology finally provides. Like its closest cousin, Bruce Springsteen's Live 1975-1985, Live Anthology almost overcompensates for the long wait by offering almost too much music, cherrypicking highlights from 1978 to 2007. In its simplest incarnation, Live Anthology is a super-affordable, four-disc box set running 48 tracks, which is eight cuts longer than Springsteen's box, plenty long enough for most fans, but in its deluxe version, there's an additional CD, plus two previously unreleased DVDs -- a 1978 New Years Eve concert from Santa Monica, a documentary called 400 Days shot during the Wildflowers tour -- a Blu-Ray edition of all 62 tracks on the five-CD version, a vinyl copy of the 1976 Official Live 'Leg LP, plus a book and lithograph, along with other assorted bonuses. Certainly, the deluxe edition lives up to its billing, offering enough extras to justify its price tag, but the standard edition is plenty generous as it is, serving up enough consistently strong music from throughout the decades, ranging from expert covers of Willie Dixon and the Grateful Dead to deep treasures from the Heartbreakers catalog. Apart from the tendency to favor performances that stretch on a little too long with jamming -- something that is a matter of taste, as some prefer energy to improvisations -- if there's any flaw to the set, it's how it goes out of its way to prove the band's consistency by skipping through the decades, letting a version of "Louisiana Rain" from 1972 sit next to a 1997 cover of "Green Onions" and "Melinda" from 2003. This certainly goes a long way to illustrating that Petty the Heartbreakers always delivered the goods, but it's somewhat at the expense of forward momentum; it's hard not to wish that it was arranged chronologically, to be able to hear the raw energy give way to easy skill, but that's just nitpicking -- any way you look at it, this Live Anthology offers an overdose of prime rock roll. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi