Saturday, December 12, 2009

Petty Deluxe

Tom Petty is one of those guys who never gets automatically put towards the top of the all-time greats' list. Even among his peers- Springsteen and U2, for example - he shines a bit dimmer. That's not a reflection on his music, but on his method. Petty & The Heartbreakers are straight-forward, balls out rockers; no grand statements, no singing on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial, or confabs with the President over AIDS in Africa. As a result, he floats somewhere below the surface of fawning attention.

Think about what Tom Petty has done, as a musician and a person. For over 30 years, Petty has been a constant seller, a consistent hit maker and a creator of a relatively disaster-less canon of work (maybe The Last DJ mars that record, but I'm willing to give it another shot). He is impossible to tag. Remember when he was kinda punk, kinda New Wave? He wasn't really, though. Remember how he was a sort of Southern hard rocker? Not quite. Did his covers of "Shout" and "Needles & Pins" denote a slavish devotion to rock history? Yes, but he was, and is, so much more.
The Live Anthology, in its deluxe box form, is a wonder. The 5-CD set is an uninterrupted three decade concert, flowing seamlessly from 2002, back to 1981, then forward to 1987, and so on. This band is the equal to The E Street Band, a group that enjoys playing and can play anything, any time. Listen to their take on "Green Onions" and marvel. In the big box of Petty, there are two DVDs, including a 1978 New Year's Eve show. That's the Petty of my memory, the shows that I saw way back when. There's also a great book, a sheet of backstage passes that I resist removing, and a Blu-Ray disc of the entire 62 song set that, when cranked, will make you believe in God and rock and roll. It sounds live, I swear.

If possible, Petty the man is an even greater story. Here's a kid who challenged the music industry for their habitual abuse of hungry young artists dying for a record deal and won. A newly established superstar battling the label to keep his Hard Promises album affordable. A fan protecting the integrity of heroes like Roger McGuinn when producers tried to force the ex-Byrd into a contemporary mode. A man who, at the top of his game musically and financially went back to his first band, Mudcrutch, and brought them back for the album they deserved to make when they were kids.

In no way has Tom Petty suffered over the years. He's sold a lot of records, worked with George Harrison and Bob Dylan, been the subject of a fantastic documentary and, most of the time, been treated kindly by the critics. He didn't get lucky; he earned it. He deserves more of your attention. The Live Anthology is a good place to begin.

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