By Marty Racine
Houston Chronicle — Sunday, January 5, 1986
Pack Up the Plantation – Live! | Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers | MCA
Used to be, during the late ’60s/early ’70s heyday of live rock albums, that in-concert recordings were special projects that were often more compelling than a particular group’s studio efforts. Rock ‘n’ roll has always been a live, spontaneous medium, and live albums captured rock’s true excitement and intensity and provided the opportunity for a band to stretch out and boogie a little on vinyl.
In the ’80s, due to developing technology, advanced recording techniques, emphasis on shorter songs (no more endless boogie) and the rise of studio-perfect whiz kids such as the Thompson Twins, Eurythmics and the rest of the techno-popsters, live albums have fallen out of favor – except as a ploy to fulfill a contractual obligation. And let’s face it: Many of today’s overnight superstars are simply not seasoned enough to put out a good stage show.
The four-sided “Pack Up The Plantation”, Petty & The Heartbreakers’ first live LP (except for an “authorized bootleg”), is a throwback to the good ol’ days of live, and, as a souvenir of the recently completed “Southern Accents Tour”, its release comes at the zenith of this veteran band’s career. Legal problems, stemming from MCA’s purchase of ABC Records, which distributed Petty’s original label, Shelter, are behind them. And the recent tour was acclaimed as Petty’s most triumphant. He’s hot, the timing is perfect.
Still, although Petty is arguably an American rock legend in his own time, you wonder about the sincerity of this Florida-born singer/songwriter/guitarist who proclaims, “I was born a Rebel.” Yeah, and he fled to Los Angeles a Rebel, too. Is he just cashing in on the New South? The new patriotism? What in heck does “Rebel,” as in Johnny Reb, mean anymore?
Beyond romantic mythicism, though, “Plantation” bristles with Heartbreaker classics such as “American Girl, Refugee, Breakdown” and “I Need To Know Know”, plus their best covers – “So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star, Don’t Bring Me Down” and an extended rave-up of “Shout”. Recorded mostly in Los Angeles toward the end of the tour when the show was tight, and augmented by backup singers and a horn section, “Plantation” is a must for Petty fans. And that, indeed, is what a live album is for.