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Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Echo At The Plaza (The Godfatherecords G.R 986/987)

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Gr986Echo At The Plaza (The Godfatherecords G.R 986/987)

Irving Plaza, New York, NY, USA  – April 11, 1999

Disc 1 (75:25) Intro, Rip It Up, Jammin’ Me, Runnin’ Down A Dream, Call Me The Breeze, Swingin’, Mary Jane’s Last Dance, Telstar, Listen To Her Heart, You Don’t Know How It Feels, It’s Good To Be King, I Wont Back Down, Green Onions, I Want You Back Again, I Got A Woman

Disc 2 (65:30) The Letter, Little Maggie, Lay Down My Ole Guitar, Walls, Angel Dream, Titanic, Room At The Top, Heartbreakers Beach Party, Guitar Boogie Shuffle, Even The Losers, I Don’t Wanna Fight, Country Farm, You Wreck Me, Encore; Free Girl Now, Gloria

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released their 10th studio record, Echo, in April 1999 and the tour to support the record was mainly made up of a summer “shed” tour in America. There were some warm up gigs played in small venues, the Fillmore in San Francisco and Irving Plaza in New York City, this new release by Godfathers presents the first of two nights at Irving Plaza. The recording featured for this releases is a soundboard and audience matrix, the mix of the tapes is perfect with the audience source added to bring in the hall ambience making for a superb listening experience, one that can only be described as perfection. The set the band performed is a mix of Petty’s back catalog blended with an eclectic blend of early rock and roll classics and Americana music, the results are a trip through time perfectly captained by master musicians.

In his review of the show for The New York Times John Pareles stated “Mr. Petty and the Heartbreakers played the first of three sold-out shows at IrvingPlaza on Sunday night. (The last one takes place tomorrow.) The rambling, two-and-a-quarter-hour set was partly a rehearsal for the band’s summer tour of arenas, partly a casual run-through of other people’s songs from the 60’s and before. Mr. Petty got around to only four songs from his new album, “Echo” (Warner Brothers). True to the style of 60’s-vintage stars, Mr. Petty had an opening act with a 50’s pedigree, Bo Diddley, and he put old country and blues songs on the sound system during intermission.”

The band hit the stage with the Little Richard classic Rip It Up and quickly keeps the pace with Jammin’ Me and Runnin’ Down A Dream. He seems to catch the audience off guard as the band begins the shuffle of Call Me The Breeze, the JJ Cale song made famous by Lynyrd Skynyrd, once they hear the familiar lyric they quickly warm up to it, Benmont Tench gets the spotlight and lays down some terrific boogie piano that quickly gets the audience clapping. The first of the four new songs from Echo is introduced by Tom as “She Went Down Swingin”, the melancholy song with some perfect interjections of harmonica by Scott Thurston.

One of the most interesting songs of the set is the band’s take on the instrumental Telstar, originally recorded in the early 60’s by The Tornados. Mike Campbell plays some psychedelic guitar at the songs beginning and the group turns in a great performance of the song.  The band follow it up with a blast of classics beginning with Listen To Her Heart followed by You Don’t Know How It Feels, but perhaps the strongest of them is an acoustic version of I Wont Back Down, it gives the audience a chance to get vocal and sing along with the band. A bit later they light up the crowd with another instrumental, their take on the Booker T and the MG’s classic Green Onions. At first dominated by Tench’s organ, Mike makes his presence felt when he plays the guitar part. The first disc ends with Tom talking about Ozzie and Harriet, an old TV show that featured a young Ricky Nelson (international Rock and Roller) who would perform at an episodes conclusion and one of the first songs that Tom learned was I Got A Woman. The song was also performed by Elvis and it is his version that I am most connected with. The rockabilly rocker is perfect for the band and they stick to the original feel of the song.

The second disc starts with another killer cover, this time the Box Tops’ The Letter, also made famous by Joe Cocker, gets the Heartbreaker treatment paying homage to the original version. Tom does a great introduction for the next song, Little Maggie. The song is pure Appalachian bluegrass sung by Jughead (aka Scott Thurston) and certainly gets the vote for most diverse song in the band’s set. Howie Epstein plays some great mandolin. They don’t stray far from bluegrass with a take on the Louvin Brothers’ Lay Down My Ole Guitar, again the songs country bluegrass blues roots come across as pure Americana, thankfully appreciated by the audience as well. The band play Walls and Angel Dream acoustically and is able to get a real intimate vibe going with the New York audience who seem to give them the confidence to play whatever they want, making it much more enjoyable.

The second new song is Room At The Top, it begins as a somber and reflective song but the tempo picks up and turns into a nice rocker with a great Campbell solo. A real deep track is next, Heartbreakers Beach Party was a B-Side to Change Of Heart from the 1983 release Long After Dark. It’s this song that the audience source makes its best contribution as the audiences’ “YEAH” make the song. Of course it is a take on West Coast surf music popularized in the early 60’s, the audience is obviously familiar with it. Mike gets a solo spot as he leads the band thorough the rockabilly inspired Guitar Boogie Shuffle and he gets his first and only lead vocal on the new song I Don’t Wanna Fight. The main set is finished with a killer version of You Wreck Me and one can take a minute to analyze the band’s music and a composite of the cover versions found within but purely original. The encores begin with Free Girl Now, the fourth and last new song of the set and a blistering take on Them’s Gloria, a perfect way to get the crowd involved as who does not know the chorus? Tom has a great rap in the middle about a blond hair beauty and is in direct conversation with the audience who seem to hang on his every word, answering him as if he were preaching to the congregation in the church of Rock and Roll, this energy lifts the song to a magical ending to a fabulous concert.

The packaging is tri gatefold sleeve with mostly live shots of Tom as well as accurate liner notes by “Nightwatchman”. Again Godfather continues to take chances with their releases, while most companies are sticking to the big name groups that will be guaranteed sellers or others who simply issue CD-R releases, The Don challenges the collectors and ultimately the listener who do not mind going off the beaten path for something a little different. The quality and performance makes this release a joy to listen to, at varying levels of volume, it all sounds great and demands repeated listening’s and is a great release.

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