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Published: 2011/01/17
by Dan Berthiaume

Tom Petty
Live Tracks

Tom Petty has certainly been generous to fans who bought online tickets to the summer-fall 2010 “Mojo” tour. In addition to offering a free download of the blues-oriented “Mojo” album, last month Petty also released eight free live MP3 tracks recorded at various stops on the tour. Taken together, the songs essentially constitute something between a long EP and short full-length album documenting a tour that found Petty and his band the Heartbreakers appearing to be as loose and having as much fun as any time in recent years.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are not typically noted for extensive jamming or tinkering with their songbook when they play live. True to form, three of the eight songs in this collection are played pretty close to their original studio versions: “King’s Highway,” “I Won’t Back Down,” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”

Fortunately, all three are superbly crafted songs that don’t need a lot of tinkering to sound fresh live, especially when played with the energy that pulses throughout these songs. Drummer Steve Ferrone (a “new” Heartbreaker having only been with the band close to 20 years) keeps a steady backbeat throughout, and in particular “I Won’t Back Down” benefits from the short, driven version here that supports the pointed message of the lyrics.

Stoner anthem “You Don’t Know How It Feels” is livened up by crisp harmonica from multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston and some funky boogie-woogie from keyboardist Benmont Tench. Toward the end of the song, the band veers into some trippy improv including interplay between Tench and lead guitarist Mike Campbell that is surprisingly reminiscent of the Dead. This leads to a rollicking, bluesy conclusion more typical of a Petty show.

“Drivin’ Down to Georgia,” a number that can only be found in official version on the 2009 “Live Anthology” box set, is probably the highlight of the set. With wry lines like “Hear that engine knockin’, we’ve both seen better days,” this tale of a mindless cross-country drive is vintage Petty: characters in his songs are usually not getting the best of life, but they keep dreaming, scheming and partying in the face of adversity.

The song is fast-paced and upbeat, featuring a lively Campbell solo followed by a jazzy Tench piano interlude which backs Petty delivering a spoken word monologue about peaches and red clay in Georgia, with a warning the peaches “won’t last long, wintertime will get ‘em.” The blistering jam following this segment underscores Petty’s general message that when life gives you lemons, give it the finger and turn up the radio.

Also provided is a slinky rendition of all-time Petty classic “Breakdown,” complete with an audience singalong of the chorus and a call and response between Petty and the crowd of “Wooah, yeah yeah yeah.” Although this version is longer than the studio version, it ends abruptly (a minor complaint I also had about the “Breakdown” I saw at the Verizon Center in Massachusetts in August.)

“Mojo” is one of the strongest studio albums Petty has put out solo or with the Heartbreakers in years (and let’s be honest, the difference between his solo and Heartbreakers work is mostly in whose name goes on the album cover), and the energy of having solid new material clearly carried over into the tour. So it’s fitting that two new songs, “I Should Have Known It” and “Good Enough,” are included.

“I Should Have Known It” is a hard rock nugget with a very ‘70s sound featuring guitar soloing in the style of Florida’s other favorite musical sons, Lynyrd Skynyrd. “Good Enough” is a slow blues where Tench again veers into Dead territory with psychedelic organ that sounds inspired by Pigpen.

Right now, the only way to get these tracks is to have bought “Mojo” tickets online. There is no word on whether at some point they will be released to the general public. Until and unless that happens, if you didn’t buy tickets to the tour, make friends with somebody who did and get copies. If you’re not already a Petty fan, these tracks might do the trick.

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