by Jacob Wingate-Bishop

In 1997, legendary rock ‘n roll musician, Tom Petty and his backing band played an impressive 20 shows at the iconic Fillmore, San Francisco – a record-breaking number. The ‘90s saw a turbulent time for Petty and his group of young-hearted gunslingers, but the Fillmore shows marked a crowning moment. Wildflowers was released just a few years earlier – often hailed as the musician’s magnum opus. The premature death of bassist Howie Epstein was far on the horizon, and Echo – a Grecian tragedy of an album in tone and inspiration – a little while off.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in their record-breaking 20 show run at The Fillmore. In San Francisco Liz Hafalia. Circa February 1997. (Photo By LIZ HAFALIA/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

For now, in ’97, the good times were here. And if you wanted a good time, you got a ticket for Tom Petty at the Fillmore. The Heartbreakers wanted to fall in love with music all over again, after decades of rigorous touring and studio sessions. Because of this, the group’s setlists differed from their usual, inundated with blazing covers and iconic, rock ‘n roll gospel – Petty screaming the likes of the Stones, John Lee Hooker and Chuck Berry every night. Each gig at the Fillmore was a two-hour stomp fest through the history of classic rock. And, until now, high-quality footage of it wasn’t readily available.

A few bits and pieces – the odd, shaky bootleg video here, a scream-tainted recording there – have come to light, but not a full album’s worth. After Wildflowers in its entirety (which saw a comprehensive re-issue in 2020), Petty’s fabled features at the Fillmore were the holy grail for fans of his work.

Enter, Live at the Fillmore 1997, a two-hour celebration of Petty’s own musical influences, tight musicianship and command over an uncontrollable audience. Released November 2022, the Petty family – along with bandmates – put together this collection of electric performances from across the 20-show run, in a 33-track long ‘standard’ version, and 58-song ‘deluxe’.

Every song has been meticulously worked over, with the highest of quality and put into a running order which compliments both set and sound. Quite simply, Live at the Fillmore… stands out as one of the best live albums in recent memory, and one hell of a feast to indulge in.

Perhaps the word that best epitomises the Fillmore release is ‘joy’. Not just from an audience of thousands and thousands over multiple nights, chanting and stomping and singing and clapping like the bubbling legions of Hell, frothing at the mouth for more Campbell, more Epstein, more Petty. No, I mean joy radiating from the band itself. Across dozens of songs, blues covers, boogies and rockers, we get a snapshot of a group falling in love with music before our very eyes, osing themselves in the adolescent hubris of a power chord.

Petty and Tom Leadon (of Mudcrutch) perform at The Fillmore on June 19, 2016 in San Francisco, California – two decades on from the legendary Fillmore run celebrated in the recent release. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

The box set opens with a performance of Let Me Up… standout, ‘Jammin’ Me’ – taken from the final show at the Fillmore on February 7th – and from the get-go, it’s clear we’re in for an energetic couple of hours. It’s a baptism by fire, before we soar into the jangle-rock highs of ‘Listen to Her Heart’ and personal favourite, ‘The Wild One, Forever’.

There’s a great impromptu rendition of ‘Heartbreakers Beach Party’ (a fairly deep cut that wound up as the B-side to ‘’), deliciously stripped back ‘American Girl’ and thunderous cover of the Stones’ ‘…Satisfaction’. All the while, Petty’s own work is peppered throughout, but they’re more contractual obligations – albeit hypnotic ones – than career-defining highlights.

It’s the guest appearances from Roger McGuinn and John Lee Hooker that we’re really treated to, before songwriters’ masterclasses of Dylan and Richard Perry (‘Louie, Louie’). Then, to top it all off, quite possibly the best live performance of Petty & the Heartbreakers committed to archive: a ten-minute cover of Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria’. Petty struts, strums and drawls his way through a hilarious monologue on the titular belle, eventually winning her over with the boast of a ‘steady job down at the Fillmore’. It’s a showcase of the man’s unbridled skill, command and charm, segueing into the melancholia of Full Moon Fever’s ‘Alright For Now’ as we close out the setlist.

Live at the Fillmore 1997 is not just a phenomenal live album; it’s a defining piece of rock and roll history, of a group at the height of their power and the love they can weave over hours of timeless, well-orchestrated anthems. It’s the love for that band, of that music, in that venue, distilled across four discs, and one hell of a gig. The box set might be wanton display of needless extras and cash-grab hedonism, but behind all that – the music itself – is a world to explore, and a moment in history which proves compulsory for the Petty fan to revisit.