A 20-date run at San Francisco’s Fillmore gave Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers the breathing room to reinterpret the band’s material, honor the songs and the artists that inspired them, perform with music legends and, most importantly, revitalize the band. A portion of the music from that residency is chronicled on “Live at the Fillmore 1997.”
Despite years of releasing songs that fit flawlessly in arenas around the world, Petty along with the Heartbreakers remained grounded in a bar band musical aesthetic. That approach shines through during these performances in the Fillmore’s intimate setting among the group’s most rabid fans. Dubbing themselves the Fillmore House Band, the 72 tracks sound as if the members are having the time of their lives.
A worthwhile companion to 2009’s The Live Anthology, Fillmore 1997’s focus on deep cuts, rarities and covers produces one exhilarating moment after another. A lengthy “It’s Good to be King” features an efficient guitar duel that shows how Campbell and Petty never had to get too fancy in order to be effective, the obscure “The Date I Had with That Ugly Old Homecoming Queen” displays the influence of Led Zeppelin and James Gang, the goofiness of “Heartbreakers Beach Party” is always welcome, an elegant, acoustic “Even the Losers” gives way to the cooler-than-school explosiveness of “American Girl,” and as we’re reminded of the beauty of “Walls (Circus)” it’s difficult to understand why it hasn’t been covered1000 times.
Returning to their formative musical years, covers include Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil,” J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama,” The Rolling Stones’ “Time is On My Side” and others by Chuck Berry, The Kinks, Everly Brothers, Bill Withers, The Byrds, Bo Diddley and Booker T. & the M.G.’s.
With an opportunity to thank the generations before them who made a lasting impression, the group is joined by Roger McGuinn for Byrds covers and John Lee Hooker for a return to their Southern blues roots.
The spirit of the situation and the on-the-nose performances never make the choice of tunes drip with self-indulgence. In the end Live at the Fillmore 1997 gives fans an opportunity to mourn the loss of and celebrate one of the greatest American bands to ever grace a concert stage.
It’s out in a condensed two-CD (or three-LP) set but do yourself a favor, don’t skimp. Go for the full deluxe edition (four-CD or six-LP). It’s worth it. There’s also a 6 LP Uber Deluxe (Limited Edition) set.
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