Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Live Anthology

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ The Live Anthology comes in two basic packages.  One has 4 CDs of music.  The other, which is being reviewed here has 5 CDs of music (the same 4 as in the CD-only set plus another), a Blu-Ray disc that contains all of the 62 tracks that are on the 5 CDs in both 5.1 Surround and 96K, 24-bit PCM stereo, a vinyl LP with a remastered bootleg of 4 tracks from 1976, a DVD with an unreleased documentary about the band called 400 Days made in the mid-1990s, a second DVD with an unreleased concert from 1978, a large booklet with “zomg! this band is so . . . !!!”  from various people, Petty’s track-by-track comments on the tracks in the set and full details on when and where each track was recorded and who plays what on the track, and assorted other bits and pieces including silk screened stage passes and a Live Anthology blank-page notebook (?? wtf  ??).

I didn’t watch the DVDs, listen to the vinyl or read the essays.  I did listen to the music on the CDs and both mixes on the Blu-Ray disc.  The Blur-Ray has the nice feature that you can switch back and forth between the stereo and surround mixes and it keeps you at the same point in the song.  This made it possible to do an ABC comparison of the CD, high resolution stereo and surround versions by syncing the CD in it’s transport with the Blu-Ray in the Blu-Ray player.  The Surround mix is very gentle with the rear speakers providing  crowd noise and a much-dampened delay of the front channels in order to give a slight feeling of being in a live venue.  As expected, the high resolution stereo provides greater clarity, depth, detail and dynamic range.  However, this will only be apparent if you have a sound system that can reproduce the sound captured on the Blu-Ray.  The recording engineers did an excellent job on The Live Anthology and the sound on the CDs is very, very good.  The hi res stereo is better but you’re not getting a markedly inferior product if you buy the CDs.  You are getting one less disc of music, however.

The Live Anthology is a love letter from the band to their fans.  In many ways it is the polar opposite of the recently reviewed box set from Kraftwerk.  With Kraftwerk you get nothing but eight of their albums remastered so that the sound is much better than what had previously been available on CD.  With The Live Anthology you don’t get any of the the band’s previously released albums.  Instead you get live versions (and I’m guessing most are previously unreleased) of (some of) their hits, album tracks, and covers.  For many fans, this is all going to be new material.

The collection was produced by Mike Campbell, Ryan Ulyate and Petty.  The lengths they went to in putting The Live Anthology together and making sure it was a box set that fans would treasure were extreme.  They started with multi-track recordings of 169 live shows stretching over a 32 year period.  Those shows were stored on 245 reels of 2″ analog tape and 36 500-GB hard drives.  The 245 tapes had to be baked in an industrial oven at 130 degrees for 10 hours each in order to play back properly.  Putting it all together they had 3,509 songs.  They did rough mixes of all 3,509 (!).  Played non-stop, back-to-back, that was 12 days worth of music.  There were 245 different songs among the 3,509.  They listened for five weeks and pulled what they considered the best version of each of the 245 songs.  They evaluated all 245 and ended up with a final cut of 80 songs.  These 80 songs were fully mixed (it took 6 months to do the full mixes).  Petty then worked on sequencing the 80 tracks.  He eliminated 19 songs because he didn’t find a way to sequence them that he liked.  That left the 61 songs that are in the collection (the first track on disc one is a band introduction which puts the number of tracks in the set at 62).  All of this took more than a year of work.  That’s a lot of effort and the result is clear for all to hear on the discs.  The Live Anthology is a brilliant collection.  Sometimes obsession can be a very good thing.

Every fan of Tom Petty and Heartbreakers will want The Live Anthology.  There are many ways to build a successful boxed set, but for a set designed to give fans of the band something they don’t already have it’s hard to imagine anything better than this.  Tom Petty has thrown down the gauntlet to every other band with a reputation of putting on a good show.  This is the way it should be done.  Outstanding.

Listening to parts of The Live Anthology while working on the review I thought “This is the track I’ll add to the review”, then another track played and I thought “No, this is the one.”  Then another track played and I thought “I have to have that one.”  This went on for five discs of music.  This is a band that’s all about the live show and The Live Anthology is a collection of what they think are their best live tracks from 32 years of performing.  There’s no way one, two or ten tracks is going to cut it.  So here’s two tracks from the disc that happened to be in the player as I write this sentence.

“Learning to Fly”

“Mary Jane’s Last Dance”

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07/06/2010 - Posted by | CD reviews, music, music reviews | , , , , , , ,

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