Tom Petty's Birthday Celebration with  Heartbreaker's Bandmates
Friday, October 20, 2023 - DTLA Bellwether Theater

Reviewed by Dana Benson

Renowned guitarist and founding member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Mike Campbell, along with his band The Dirty Knobs (which included Heartbreakers and Average White Band drummer Steve Ferrone), gave the 1500-person crowd at the Bellwether in DTLA the exceptional show they came for last Friday night. First the Dirty Knobs played a set of their own material, mostly blistering garage rock, which they followed with a set of Tom Petty songs to commemorate what would have been his 73rd birthday. Singer-songwriter Lissie, ( Elisabeth Corrin Maurus), did a great job opening.

Campbell's voice closely resembles Petty's. H earing him play the tunes they co-wrote is as close as a fan will get to hearing Petty's music live again. That is what made it a special evening. Campbell told us as he started the show "We are here to achieve rock and roll soul healing together." As he ended the show, he wished Petty a happy birthday and told him "We know you're still around Tom."  It was a that kind of night.

Campbell led his four-piece guitar band through a two-and-a-half-hour performance that included grunge, blues, southern, and psychedelic rock originals, and Tom Petty covers. After introducing his band (Lance Morrison bass, guitarist Chris Holt, and Steve Ferrone, ex-Heartbreakers drummer and Average White Band founding member), Campbell turned the stage over to Ferrone who rapped with the audience while the band rested. 

The joke was that Petty used to tell Ferrone to "get back behind the f***ing drums and play" when the Heartbreakers were writing songs. Ferrone is a charming man with a British accent, full of stories, wit, and humor. He explained how he had worked with Campbell on a session in London. They became friends, but "not friends like he ever stayed in touch or called or wrote to me" Ferrone joked. 

They had been out of touch for years when his agent asked him to fly to LA to play on a secret album project. He was excited since a secret album meant three times the normal pay. He stayed at the Sportsman's Lodge in North Hollywood and when he walked into the famous Sound City Studios in Van Nuys , there sat Campbell and Petty. And that was how Ferrone became a Heartbreaker.

Campbell either wrote, or co-wrote, thirty-six songs for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. He has written and played with chart-topping musicians including Don Henley, Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, Randy Newman, Linda Ronstadt, John Prine, and Johnny Cash. His many songwriting credits include "The Boys of Summer" (with Don Henley) and "The Heart of the Matter" (with Henley and J.D. Souther). 

The band banged their way through Dirty Knobs originals including "Wreckless Abandon," "Dirty Job," "Lightning Boogie" and "External Combustion" (the title track to their second album ).

They also played "Shake Those Blues" from their third album which is due out in January. The repeating chord progression reminded me of David Bowie's "Jean Genie" riff. It had that rising, clanging, insistent, commanding majesty. 

The seventh song of the set, titled " F*** That Guy," was a crowd pleaser. The audience, (who were for the most part over fifty), sang F*** that guy back to Campbell on cue, while second guitarist Chris Holt added to the frustration with his slide guitar. The lyrics wouldn't have impressed an English teacher, but the audience loved them:

Well look at that clown dressed up like Charles Dickens
Sneaking around like Slim Pickens
If he was a woman, he'd think he was God's gift to man
Gonna stick his head in a garbage can

Ah f** that guy
Yea f** that guy
It ought to be a crime

He ain't no friend of mine
F** that guy 

Another peak came when Campbell asked the audience to "tiptoe through the Milky Way" with him on a psychedelic instrumental titled "In This Lifetime." This moody track showed Campbell's mastery of another style.

The Dirty Knob's music is harder edged than Petty's, it's more like Neal Young's grunge. The contrast was obvious when they launched into Petty/Heartbreaker's songs including "Rocking Around (With You)", "You Wreck Me", "Fooled Again", "Listen To Her Heart", "Even The Losers", "Don't Fade On Me", "Makin' Some Noise", "Fault Lines", "You Got Lucky", and "Running A Dream". On the Petty numbers the band was clearer and tighter and Campbell made good use of his limited vocal range. The harmonies were rough but worked. 

This was the last show of their cross-country tour which began in the spring which included the recent Farm Aid concert where the band backed Bob Dylan. Campbell said stay tuned, they will be playing more dates soon.

Fortunately, Campbell and Ferrone live in L.A., so it is not hard to imagine them playing some "one off" shows after they
are rested . Campbell is a special talent and now that Tom is gone, he is the closest living connection to Petty's music. Don't miss the Dirty Knobs next time they come around. 

Posted By DH Magazine on November 18, 2023 06:27 pm | Permalink