By Drew Olson Special to Published Dec 15, 2009 at 4:14 PM

A generation ago, bands put out live albums when their recording contracts were about to expire and/or a bad case of writer's block (or visits to rehab) delayed the process of making a studio record.

That's not the case today ... at least not all the time.

The Internet has made it so easy for fans to share information like audio files, set lists, photos and even high-definition video that its easy to recreate a concert experience from your laptop.

Live records no longer can be slap-dash time-fillers. They need deep cuts, DVDs, extra bells and whistles and some tender loving care in order to stand out.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers understand the concept.

Their recent release, "Live Anthology," is a monstrous project that captures the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers at full gallop from 1978 -- when the band was marketed as new wave -- through 2007, when concerts became "greatest hits revues."

In a recent interview with Natalie Rotman of the Associated Press, Petty talked about his motivation for the project and a surprise that he encountered along the way.

"It seemed like a good time to do it and I thought it would be a chore in a way," Petty said. "I started to do it and I just fell in love with the project. It got better and better. I spent a year digging out stuff and mixing it. It was like looking at a photo album, but you can all be in the picture."

And the surprise?

"I was surprised that we were as good as we were," Petty said. "I really didn't listen to us when we were back in our 20s and starting out. It was a really good little rock and roll band. I see why it caught on."

For fans, the toughest thing about this set is deciding which format to purchase. You can get a four-CD set featuring 48 tracks that include a stockpile of Petty's own hits as well as pulverizing cover songs. You can find that for about $25 in stores or even less on and other Web sites.

If you are a Petty zealot, that standard set might not be enough.

Under a deal with Best Buy and through his own Web site, Petty is selling a more expanded box with a fifth CD (14 extra tracks), an audio-only Blu-ray disc that features all 62 tracks in high-resolution and 5.1 surround sound, two DVDS -- a "400 Days," Martyn Atkins' documentary of the "Wildflowers" tour from 1995, and video from the band's legendary 1978 New Year's Eve show at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. There is also an LP of "Live ‘Leg'" an "official" bootleg from 1976.

The deluxe set also includes a book with liner notes from Petty and Warren Zanes, Bill Flanagan, Robert Hilburn, Joel Selvin, Austin Scaggs and Phil Sutcliffe. There is a lithograph of the cover art, a reproduction of a poster from the band's 1997 residency at the Fillmore in San Francisco, a "Live Anthology" notebook and assorted vintage satin backstage passes.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Petty -- who battled record company executives throughout his career and sneered at corporate sponsorship -- talked about the Best Buy deal.

"I've made sure that the four-disc package is everywhere," he said. "If you want the deluxe package, which is five CDs, you have to go to Best Buy. This is just the way it is going. I don't know what else to do. These are the people that sell records now."

Petty takes care of "old school" audiophiles with a seven-LP set of recordings ($139.99). For $24.98, fans can stream 48 songs live or download them as MP3 files or higher-quality FLAC (free lossless audio codec) files.

Customers who purchase the online set still get access to liner notes, photos, recording session notes and commentary from Petty, guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench.

It's not like Petty's career was undocumented before this set. In 1995, the group put out a six-CD set called "Playback" that included demos and unreleased material. Later, there was a more streamlined double CD called "Anthology: Through the Years." More recently, director Peter Bogdanovich's "Runnin' Down a Dream" provided a long look at the band's evolution from the best bar band in Gainesville, Fla., to stadium-rocking radio icons.

"The Live Anthology" captures the power of the band from its upstart days in the late 1970s, when Petty snarled his way through songs like "Breakdown" and "Refugee" that are now so familiar that the first notes send veteran concert-goers heading to the restroom or concession stands.

Many of the track on "The Live Anthology" capture a band on the rise, the covers from later in the group's career -- like Van Morrison's "Mystic Eyes" or Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" capture the spirit that made Petty, Campbell, Benmont Tench and rhythm section stalwarts Stan Lynch, Steve Ferrone, Ron Blair and the late Howie Epstein (a Milwaukee native) into one of the more impressive outfits you can see on a given night.

Given the disposable nature of today's MP3 culture, you wonder if current groups will have the staying power to climb the heights that the Heartbreakers and some of their contemporaries have reached.

Perhaps this "Live Anthology" set can serve as a road map.

"Live Anthology" track listing

1. Ladies and Gentlemen
2. Nightwatchman
3. Even the Losers
4. Here Comes My Girl
5. A Thing About You
6. I'm In Love
7. I'm a Man
8. Straight Into Darkness
9. Breakdown
10. Something In the Air
11. I Just Want To Make Love To You
12. Drivin' Down To Georgia
13. Lost Without You
14. Refugee

1. Diddy Wah Diddy
2. I Want You Back
3. Wildflowers
4. Friend of the Devil
5. A Woman In Love (It's Not Me)
6. It's Good To Be King
7. Angel Dream (No. 2)
8. Learning To Fly
9. Mary Jane's Last Dance
10. Mystic Eyes

1. Jammin' Me
2. The Wild One, Forever
3. Green Onions
4. Louisiana Rain
5. Melinda
6. Goldfinger
7. Surrender
8. Dreamville
9. Spike
10. Any Way You Want It
11. American Girl

1. Runnin' Down a Dream
2. Oh Well
3. Southern Accents
4. Crawling Back To You
5. My Life/Your World
6. I Won't Back Down
7. Square One
8. Have Love Will Travel
9. Free Fallin'
10. The Waiting
11. Good, Good Lovin'
12. Century City
13. Alright For Now

DISC FIVE (Deluxe set only)
1. Think About Me
2. Down South
3. I Need to Know
4. Billy the Kid
5. I'd Love to Love You Baby
6. Image of Me
7. Born in Chicago
8. Like a Diamond
9. The Last DJ
10. No Second Thoughts
11. Ballad of Easy Rider
12. Don't Come Around Here No More
13. Too Much Ain't Enough
14. County Farm

Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.