BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
Musicians are famous for having side-projects. While Eddie Vedder has taken a pair of hiatuses from Pearl Jam to record solo albums and Jack White balanced fronting The White Stripes with The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, just to name a pair, the list of established performers who have put their involvement with one of the most recognized bands of All-Time on hold to reunite their first bar band is far from plentiful.
Enter Tom Petty and Mudcrutch. The Gainesville band broke up in 1975 after getting dropped by their label, with Petty going solo and launching the Heartbreakers as his backing band for the past four decades. Guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench followed and have been with him throughout, but it takes an artist of Petty’s stature to check his ego at the door and be such a team player in the name of nostalgia and old friends to be content simply playing bass guitar. These guys truly seem to enjoy being back on stage and playing together.
Touring in support of their second album, the aptly titled “Mudcrutch 2”, following the band’s 2008 self-titled debut, er reunion, Mudcrutch gave an inspired performance that was energized throughout and had the packed house at The Fillmore in a state of near ecstasy viewing a stadium favorite in such an intimate venue.
Unlike Petty with the Heartbreakers, this band shares the vocal chores with nary the hint of a Heartbreakers song appearing in the setlist and everyone in the band singing lead on at least one song while restricting their performance to Mudcrutch compositions and occasional covers. The inclusion of a number of extensive jams stretched the mere two albums of material into a concert that approached the 2 1/4 hour mark.
“2” is a great album throughout that rivals any of the stellar efforts Petty has delivered in the past 40 years for both consistent quality from beginning to end in addition to staying power after numerous listens. He seems to be totally at ease sharing the spotlight on both the record and on stage as evidenced by the lead vocals delivered by drummer Randall Marsh on “Beautiful World,” long time keyboardist Benmont Tench’s “Welcome to Hell” and guitarist Mike Campbell’s “Victim of Circumstance”, all uber quality songs from the latest release.
While Tench’s keyboards continue to shine brightly, guitarist Tom Leadon, brother of Bernie, a founding member of The Eagles, is featured on “The Other Side Of The Mountain” which includes enough blazing banjo for Petty to state, “I’m pretty sure it is the first psychedelic bluegrass song”.
A rollicking version of Bob Dylan’s classic “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” was another highlight. Petty first performed the song with the Heartbreakers when they were Dylan’s backing band while they toured together in 1986, and on this night he took the liberty of improvising “take my automatic weapons and bury them in the ground” into the vintage lyrics in a rather timely gesture following the most recent gun induced carnage in Orlando.
The stellar and creative presentation didn’t seem to leave anyone in the crowd disappointed about not hearing any of Petty’s most recognizable hits. Hopefully this side-project with Mudcrutch will continue to produce more great material. In the meantime Petty hopes to release a deluxe version of 1994’s “Wildflowers”, his second solo album, next year and support it by playing it in it’s entirety on tour.
Mudcrutch returns to play The Fox in Oakland on Wednesday before concluding their tour
with four shows in Southern California beginning Saturday in Los Angeles.