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A living music legend rolled into town last week and delivered exactly what the sold out Belly Up Tavern music fans wanted – a fantastic night of old school rock n’ roll.  Mike Campbell, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee as a member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, is proving rock and roll is alive and well with his fantastic band Mike Campbell and The Dirty Knobs.  The upbeat guitar-driving blues, southern rock, and country Americana vibes truly showcase Campbell’s talents as a songwriter and guitarist.  But they also carry on the spirit and celebration of the late great Tom Petty.  If you love Tom Petty, then I can guarantee you will love what Mike Campbell is doing with his Dirty Knobs project.

Campbell started his side band project over twenty years ago with guitarist Jason Sinay, bassist Lance Morrison, and drummer Matt Laug.  In a 2001 Rolling Stone interview, Campbell described the Knobs as,”…rougher-edged [than Petty’s material] …slightly over-driven, less polished, lots of Sixties influence…It’s something I probably should have done a long time ago, but I didn’t ’cause I was wrapped up in the Heartbreakers.”  The Knobs debut album Wreckless Abandon was released in 2020 but COVID deterred opportunities to tour.  Now on tour supporting the release of their outstanding sophomore record External Combustion, the band finally has their chance to perform their original tunes live, bringing their tunes to life for excited audiences around the world.   

The Belly Up live set started with an announcement by Campbell that although original Heartbreaker drummer Stan Lynch had been filling in temporarily (regular drummer Laug had prior commitments in Europe), Lynch was “under the weather but gonna be okay”.  Instead of cancelling the gig, Campbell proudly introduced Phil Jones was filling in!  Jones performed with Campbell on Petty’s solo album Full Moon Fever (1989) that included memorable classics “Running Down a Dream”, “Free Fallin”, and “I Won’t Back Down”. 

Although the band kicked off the night off with “Running Down a Dream”, the setlist mostly highlighted the Knobs excellent original material.  Favorites off the new album were the catchy up-tempo rocker “Wicked Mind”, “External Combustion” conjured up a bluesy Led Zeppelin feel, “Dirty Job” with a driving AC/DC riff, and “Brigitte Bardot” was a swamp stomping banjo boogie with a “Folsom Prison” type beat.  Another fun moment was the hilarious light-hearted tune off the first album “Fuck That Guy” (check out the great video) with the audience yelling the callback “Fuck That Guy!”.

Then for the ultimate special surprise – Joining the band for the encore was none other than original Heartbreaker bassist and San Diego resident Ron Blair (1976-1981, 2002-2017)!  The crowd went nuts as they jammed Petty favorites “Listen to Her Heart” and then “Fooled Again (I Don’t Like it)”.  What a great show!  My only regret was that Lynch’s illness prevented a grand reunion of all three original Heartbreakers.  D’oh!  But nonetheless, my heart is full of gratitude realizing how special it is to see our old school rock heroes still performing wonderful shows and creating new amazing music.  Go check out Mike Campbell and The Dirty Knobs’ music catalog and look for a tour date near you! 

Be well and keep rockin’ - Greg Vitalich


Greg Vitalich

Photojournalist - San Diego

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