Without doing any research, I couldn’t tell you what erstwhile Heartbreaker Stan Lynch has been doing with his life for the past three decades. But Saturday night in Boulder, Colorado, he was right back where he should be – backing up Mike Campbell and playing Tom Petty songs. The just-announced reunion was fully unveiled at the Fox Theater, giving Campbell’s band, The Dirty Knobs, a little extra juice to kick off the next leg of their tour.
In a different universe, Campbell could’ve been a front man, and a pretty good one. But Gainesville, Florida, had different ideas, so he spent four decades as a prolific songwriter and revered guitar player. This long-percolating side project provided a personal musical outlet, both before and after Petty’s death in 2017. The Dirty Knobs released two albums during the pandemic, 2020’s LA-glammy Wreckless Abandon and its Southern fried step-brother, External Combustion, out earlier this year. So this tour is not a nostalgia-soaked cash grab, but an earnest rock ‘n’ roll sojourn through large clubs and small theaters. And Lynch had to learn new songs in short order, which prompted him to ask the audience to “wish me luck” before the band kicked into their opener, “Lightning Boogie.” He needn’t have worried – Lynch has always been regarded as a great live drummer, and the smiles that crossed his face confirmed his comfort level (note – Lynch also has a new project, The Speaker Wars, and is planning to release an album later this year). The crowd, too, dug – and KNEW – the new stuff, and some of the show’s best moments were the Knobs tunes – “I Still Love You” is a dark, brooding rocker with big, chunky riffs, and “Electric Gypsy” is one of the best road songs you’ll hear this year.
The band is small and tight – Campbell, Lynch (temporarily replacing Matt Laug, who had a previous touring commitment), guitartist Jason Sinay and bassist Lance Morrison – and the frills are few: Campbell joked that fellow Heartbreaker Benmont Tench, who played on both Knobs albums, wouldn’t be joining them onstage because “I can’t afford him right now!” (He’s right – Tench is currently touring with Stevie Nicks). But, whether it was new music or Petty classics, the crowd got what they came for. Campbell sprinkled his originals with old favorites – “Fooled Again (I Don’t Like It),” a downbeat “Refugee” (ostensibly sent out to Ukrainians in exile) and “Southern Accents” (with its haunting lyrics slightly altered to reflect Petty’s passing) all made appearances in the two-hour main set.
And while the rock ‘n’ roll debauchery may look a little different in 2022 (the most rebellious moment belonged to Campbell’s small dog, India, who rushed the stage mid-set, to the delight of the crowd and the mild embarrassment of its owner), the songs – and the players – can still carry a night. Upon returning to the stage, Campbell declared that, “I think Stan passed the audition” before launching into a four-song encore, capped by eternal barnburner “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” Complicated histories and long-awaited reunions aside, the night was pure fun, something that some bands – and some fans – seem to forget sometimes.
Check out tour dates for Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs, featuring Stan Lynch through June 26th: https://www.thedirtyknobs.com/#tour
Give Stan Lynch’s The Speaker Wars a listen here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/5bBDNhtScGjC5NoxcktbAG?si=_LYwUvJNS5Oc_j6zQmqPPw