Warner Bros. // 1999 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // December 24th, 1999
A classic band. A sold out show. Be there.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is a band known to anyone who has listened to rock and roll between 1977 and now. They've amassed dozens of hits and it took 92 tracks including 17 videos to do their retrospective. Here we get a front row seat at a sold out show, filmed with an eye to quality, and with an even better soundtrack. Alas, no anamorphic transfer.
If you have read my biography (found in the "dossier" link on menu at left) then you know the first job I held was as a rock and roll singer. I spent a lot of years singing in a lot of places. I did so many songs by other artists while developing my own songwriting, and I became a mimic of so many different voice styles that I had forgotten what I sounded like just as myself. So I decided to sit down and bring out my own voice, my individual style. I got it down, and started performing my own songs with it. The band and my friends told me "Hey, you sound just like Tom Petty!" Guess I couldn't win. Whether we just sound alike or this one artist who I didn't cover during those years remained a ghost in the back of my head, I don't know. At any rate, I was a fan of his, and still am. But enough about me, lets talk about the band and this disc.
Earlier this year Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers started a tour and played a long stint at the Fillmore in San Francisco. It is testament to their continuing popularity that this was filmed during the 20th sold out show in a row. Most of the members of this band grew up together, and have played together for more than 20 years. The tightness of the band and the easy familiarity between them shows. They open up the concert with an '87 tune called "Jammin' Me" that Petty co-wrote with Bob Dylan. The band was casually dressed, no flash, just a confident and up-front style. They followed that up with "Runnin' Down a Dream," a big hit from 1989.
You could tell right away that the filmmakers knew what they were doing, cuts were crisp and on target. The images were soft, which was intentional from the film stock it came from, but colors were bright and fleshtones and shadows were right on the money. It was at this point I hit my audio button to see what soundtrack I had. It said Bitstream 2.0 PCM!. I hit it again, hoping for a digital surround track, but nothing. Finally going to the menu I was able to switch to the advertised 5.1 Dolby Digital track. I listened to both tracks and the differences were subtle. I think that is because even in the 5.1 the surrounds are basically only used for audience sounds and the center is hardly used at all. The soundstage was slightly more open but slightly less dynamic with the 5.1 track. It's a hard choice to decide which I liked best, frankly I think I liked using the 2.0 with my Yamaha's Concert Hall DSP the best. But even without digital sound fields it sounds great, whichever track you use. It sounds as good or better than any concert recording I've heard.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were about to unveil a new CD called "Echoes" when this was shot, and is now released. So many of the tracks were from this CD, as bands generally do. At least they didn't try to go the cheap route of doing a medley of dozens of hits from over the years. Instead they did a 90-minute show, and the songs I most wanted to hear were there, with "Refugee" notably missing. The new songs were a more mature version of the band, though "I Don't Wanna Fight" was a good old-fashioned straight jam. I liked most of the songs, and they did a great job with the old ones.
One notable exception I thought was funny was that at the beginning of track 11"Even the Losers" Tom just lost it in the first line. He then said "I can't go on TV with that and do you mind if I start over? Pretend you don't think anything is happening." A second abortive attempt to get the song started led to "The director's looking weird at me." Fortunately the third try was a charm, and the song came off great. I'm sure he hoped that part would be cut from the disc, but I'm glad it wasn't. It gave an even better "you are there" feel to the concert. And I can relate to messing up a song at the first line. Not that I ever did that. Another noteworthy event during the concert is the addition of Bo Diddley to the band for the song "Mona." There are a total of 19 songs, a respectable show.
So what didn't I like about this disc? Only a few things. Probably the biggest one is the lack of anamorphic enhancement. The picture looks just fine on my standard TV, but it won't look as great on widescreen sets. Since concert films aren't generally of extreme quality I wouldn't disqualify it even if you do have a widescreen TV. Next on my list is that the film would cut to backstage and even outside the theater between tracks, to people taking down equipment and loading it in the truck. You could still hear the concert between songs while this was shown, and it quickly went back to the show, but it still was a jarring experience. It felt almost like the show was already over after each track. My third complaint was the menus, which were static and blurry. You could still access each track, but it was fairly ugly. Last but not least of my complaints is the lack of extras. There are none. An interview with the band would have been great. I'd have been happier just having a discography or maybe lyrics. Even a video tour of the Fillmore hall would have been nice. Since I could come up with these off the top of my head, I wonder why Warner can't.
If you're a Tom Petty fan, this is a must buy. If you've not really listened to them before, this is definitely worth a rental. The few flaws are overlooked by this judge, though I might feel a bit worse if I owned a widescreen television. A great concert, and a band that hasn't gone into the phase of merely paying lip service to itself, even after so many years.
The band and the concert are acquitted, with the court's apology for wasting their time. Warner Brothers is admonished to stop with the haphazard commitment to anamorphic transfers and putting the extras the buying public have come to expect.
Review content copyright © 1999 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Band Site
* Tribute Site