In his 30 year career Tom Petty has sold more than 50 million albums, received three Grammy awards, a Golden Note award, the Gershwin Award For Lifetime Musical Achievement, and been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So why doesn’t he seem to get more respect?
To me, it stems from his ability to continually knock out solid albums in a steady fashion for all those years. Every couple of years, Petty puts out an album full of solidly good, if not great material. There are usually a couple of standout hits in each, but no album really rises above the rest. Think about it. Is there one Petty album that you would consider to be an absolute classic? What is his Revolver? Or Dark Side of the Moon? Or Blonde on Blonde? No, in my ever so humble opinion, none of his albums quite make it to that genius level.
Petty’s career has remained relatively stable over the last three decades as well. He continues to put out solid albums, record hit songs and take his band on the road. There haven’t been any giant breakdowns or burn outs. He hasn’t even faded away. No, there has always been a Tom Petty making good songs and churning out classic rock. Where almost all of your great rock bands have all died by one mean or another, Petty has remained one of the few rockers to keep truckin’.
I think by continually putting out good, not great albums so steadily it is easy for the casual fan to overlook Petty’s achievement. Without one brilliant album to cling to, his dozen really good ones get overlooked. By never leaving our presence, it’s easy to sort of forget about how remarkable his career really is.
One of the great things about Tom Petty’s long career is that he can play a different set list almost every night and still sprinkle it heavily with hit songs. For this performance he performs half a dozen of his hit singles, while mixing in songs from his newest album, Highway Companion, slightly obscure older songs, and a few BB King covers.
The Heartbreakers never veer far from the original versions of the songs, but perform with the vibrant energy only found at live concerts. Occasionally there is an extended guitar solo, but it never wanders far from the song's melody and always ends way too quickly for these ears. Mike Campbell proves over and over that while he may never make it to any top lists of greatest guitarist lists, he is more than capable of producing sweet licks and charbroiled sounds.
This is a pretty decent audience recording, and as such there is a good blend of the band playing and the audience enjoying the show. The band mixes are a little muddled, so this is nothing to put on your A-list shelf, but the audience is so exuberant and excited in their response and sing-along that I find myself getting swept away in it all. When the light is just right, I close my eyes and almost feel like I’m right there.
Tom Petty may never find the diehard fanship of The Beatles, Dylan or The Dead, but by continually writing good songs and putting on shows like this, he’s proven to be one of the most steady and long-lasting performers in rock and roll. Not a bad epitaph to have in the end.