Monday, August 23, 2010

COOL DOC: TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS' "DAMN THE TORPEDOES" (and other DVDs)

I've definitely been in a Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers mood, and mode, lately.  I'm going to see them in concert tomorrow night.  So, I was stoked to get a new DVD episode covering their classic album, 1979's Damn The Torpeodes.   I would have thought that Tom and the guys would have been "documentaried out" after 2007's career spanning documentary Runnin' Down A Dream.  But the original band members - Tom Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell, keyboardist Benmont Tench, former and current bassist Ron Blair (he quit the band, but rejoined a few years back) sat down for new interviews, as did producer Jimmy Iovine (wearing his "Beats By Dre" headphones) and engineer Shelly Yakus (ex-drummer Stan Lynch's interviews are taken from archival footage, and when Petty refers to him, you can still hear the anger, but also the respect for him). As with the Black Sabbath Paranoid Classic Albums DVD, this one is great and takes you pretty deep into the album.

Tom, Mike and Iovine sit down at a mixing board and go through lots of the songs, isolating tracks and marveling at what they did all those years ago. They talk about how legendary drummer Jim Keltner played the shaker on "Refugee" which gave it its "mojo," how Tom almost gave the his former Mudcrutch song "Don't Do Me Like That" to The J. Geils Band ("I thought it sounded like a J. Geils Band song!") and how Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench came up with their riffs. Torpedoes is an incredible album, and I don't think that it gets its due, and this doc helps to rectify that.

But watching this DVD got me to thinking abot all of the Petty DVDs that are out there, many of them I've never written about. Runnin' Down A Dream I have written about.  Best Buy actually had a 4 disc version, which featured a four hour version of the documentary, a concert from Petty's 2006 tour and a CD of rare tracks. That's the gold standard if you're a huge fan.  You can't get that version anymore - the one that is now available (everywhere, not just at Best Buy) is 2 discs and just contains the documentary.

Last year, Best Buy had an exclusive expanded version of the Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers box set, The Live Anthology, which contained two DVDs. One disc, 400 Days, was a documentary on the making of, and touring behind, Tom's solo album, Wildflowers.  But the doc was really boring in my opinion, I'd skip that one.  Not so for the other DVD: Live At the Santa Monica Civic Auditorum, recorded on New Year's Eve 1978/1979.  I wish they'd release this on CD (or even mp3).  Great performance by the original version of the band.

In 1996, the band played a series of concerts at the Fillmore in San Francisco; they decided not to tour for the She's The One soundtrack, instead opting for a long residency at the legendary venue.  I believe that those shows transformed the band for years to come, and made them a more kick-ass band. Three years later, in 1999 with Echo as their new album, they returned to the Fillmore and this DVD is the proof of how rocking they were. Lots of classics, as well as great mid- and late- '90s tunes that deserve to be re-examined ("Swingin'," "Walls," "Angel Dream," "Room At The Top," "Free Girl Now" and even "I Don't Wanna Fight" [sung by Mike] are all excellent).

In 2003, they released The Last DJ: Live At The Olympic. You know how I feel about The Last DJ! This concert sees the band accompanied by an orchestra (conducted by Jon Brion, who has produced records for Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple and Kanye West). The encore included some classics, as well as covers of "Shake, Rattle & Roll" and Chuck Berry's "Around and Around." A bonus CD, Bad Girl Boogie, features covers of The Animals' "I'm Crying," Elmore James' "Done Somebody Wrong," Ray Charles' "I Got A Woman" and Chuck Berry's "Carol." Awesome collection.

In 2005, they released their episode of the PBS series SoundStage, which featured a few hits and lots of covers ("Baby, Please Don't Go," "Born In Chicago," "Little Red Rooster").  Another great performance. I guess the deal with Tom is, when you go to see him live (or even watch him on DVD or Blu-Ray), you can't go wrong!

2 comments:

Mike said...

Great review of Tom Petty! I wish they'd release the New Year’s Eve DVD by itself at some point rather than just in the Live Anthology.

Minority said...

Hi, Mike, thanks for reading and commenting. Yeah, it would be cool for them to release that DVD on its own, but I doubt they'll do it. that said, the live box set is really worth the $.