Review: “Live at the Fillmore (1997)” is a Tremendous Rock and Roll History Lesson From Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

With 72 tracks stretched out over four discs, the Live at the Fillmore (1997) box set from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is a raucous, joyous set, showcasing Petty and his stalwart band honoring their roots and influences without straying away from the hits that made them famous.

Consisting of tracks from the last six performances of their month-long residency at the famed San Francisco venue, the Fillmore, Petty and the Heartbreakers were beyond well-rehearsed. They were tight. Listeners can almost feel the telepathic waves between the band members as they work their way through the set-lists.

It helps that Live at the Fillmore (1997) is one of the cleanest and best-mixed live albums ever created. The soundstage is immersive and precise. You’re three rows back, two beers in, and watching one of the most beloved bands in rock history.

There are some deep cuts on Live at the Fillmore (1997), surprising in their range. Their cover of “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” by the Ventures is wonderful. The Heartbreakers jam their way through songs by the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead, and the Kinks. There’s even an instrumental version of the theme from the James Bond movie, Goldfinger. We’re being taught rock and roll history by someone who was utterly enamored of the subject.

Things get even more interesting when Petty brings guests onto the stage to strut their stuff. Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn joins the band for a few tunes, including an excellent version of “Eight Miles High.” Grab a seat for the John Lee Hooker set, which features a rollicking rendition of “Boogie Chillen.”

A crowd-prompted version of fan favorite “Heartbreakers Beach Party” is one of the high points of the set. You can hear and feel the fun Petty and the band are having, the connection they have with the crowd, and it brings a smile. Tunes like that serve to offset the poignancy of the times when the Heartbreakers tone it down and let Petty do what he did best. Stripped-down versions of “Angel Dream” and “Even the Losers” reveal hidden layers of emotion, a grimy beauty unheard in their original state.

It’s been difficult for fans to hear the music of Tom Petty since he joined the ranks of Dead Rock Stars in October 2017. His unmistakable voice, that mixture of longing, contentment, and that Florida twang. Those three-chord songs, ubiquitous on FM radio for decades. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were a staple and, frankly, we took them for granted. We thought Petty would be with us longer, if not forever.

Live at the Fillmore (1997) refuses to mourn Petty or Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein, who passed away in 2003. There’s a giddiness to these recordings, a snapshot of a time when Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were making incredible music with people they admired, in front of appreciative and receptive crowds. More of a remembrance than a memorial, Live at the Fillmore (1997) celebrates not only Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, but rock and roll itself.

Live at the Fillmore (1997) by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is scheduled for release November 25, 2022, from Warner Bros. Look for it wherever fine music is sold and on various digital streaming platforms.

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