TVD Live Shots: Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs with Jeremy Ivey at the Birchmere, 3/28

PHOTOS: RICHIE DOWNS | With Tom Petty gone since 2017, fans have flocked to the shows of his longtime guitarist, producer, and collaborator Mike Campbell. With the same kind of Florida panhandle twang, rock ’n’ roll pedigree and especially taste in top hats, he’s the closest and most authentic connection to a beloved body of music.

But the talented Campbell, 72, has been busy in a lot of other ventures, too, over the years, helping out bands in the studio, co-writing with stars and even serving as part of Fleetwood Mac for a tour. For the last decade or so, he’s also maintained a stripped-down, garage sounding rock band, the Dirty Knobs, who’ve only released their first two albums in the last couple of years.

The Dirty Knobs have been listed to play a gig at the Birchmere in Alexandria for more than two years. First scheduled for March 17, 2020, it was postponed to September 2020, then rescheduled for a year later, September 2021, and finally to a late March, long sold out show this week.

“Hey Virginia! We made it,” Campbell greeted. “Thank you all for risking your lives to be with us tonight, just as we’ve risked our lives to be with you.” (You’d think the pandemic was officially over, though, with no vaccination checks, nary a mask in sight, and fans packed as tightly as ever on the long tables.)

It was a generous, generally rocking show on a wide stage, where equipment, amps and guitars spilled clear down the runway to backstage. The volume was that of someone used to arenas and stadia as well (or someone who had already lost their hearing at such venues).

Though fans were rewarded deep in the set with Petty classics—five in all before it was all over, including the tour debut of “American Girl”—the Dirty Knobs material was well-received throughout. Given a chance to request songs, one fan insisted on their “Sugar” to begin a long, cover-heavy encore set. And he hooked those unfamiliar with the tunes early on with a singalong to “Lightning Boogie.” Having been a part of Petty’s crowd-pleasing Heartbreakers for four decades, he’s picked up a thing or two about stagecraft.

The Knobs are a solid outfit with hard-hitting Matt Laug, bassist Lance Morrison, and guitarist Jason Sinay, who trades off on solos as well as providing key backing and occasional lead vocals for Campbell, whose own vocals, as close as they are to Petty’s, can be a little thin. Thinner still are the lyrics to a lot of Knobs songs—“Seven come eleven, you’ll never get to heaven” goes one verse in his “Rat City.”

Clearly, Campbell was known for writing the music to Petty collaborations, and in the few songs that concentrated on longer solos or guitar interplay with Sinay were the highlights. The lyrical contrast was most obvious when he’d kick into something like “Southern Accents,” which like a few of the Heartbreakers hits, was done slower and quieter than the original, in part to bring out the words but also probably to avoid full scale nostalgic singalongs. Along these lines, “Refugee,” with a preface about the current Eastern European crisis, was especially effective.

By the time they got to the encore, it was time to not only present Petty hits at the original tempo, but to throw in all manner of covers that showed off Campbell’s influences, from the Byrds’ reading of Dylan’s “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” to “Little Queenie” from Chuck Berry, whose music played before the band took the stage.

“You Got Lucky” was without the snaking keyboard riff Campbell tried to replicate on guitar, but it did have an astounding solo that wandered into all manner of recognizable Beatles riffs from “Eleanor Rigby” to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” some Ventures twang of “Walk Don’t Run,” some Dick Dale surf chops, licks of “Layla” here, a remnant of “Rhiannon” there. In short, the best kind of showcase for a guitarist.

Navigating through rock history also came in the final song, a version of Bo Diddley’s “Road Runner,” that led to his “Who Do You Love” to a bit of the Allman Brothers’ “Mountain Jam” to Cream’s cover of Skip James’ “I’m So Glad.” It put the end of the show at well past 11—a shockingly late hour for Birchmere fans who arrive as early as 6:30 to get a good seat and are not surprised by shows ending as early as 9:30.

The evening began agreeably enough (at 7:30) with a set by Jeremy Ivey, a Nashville-based singer songwriter who immediately endeared himself to the audience by explaining his left hand was swollen because of a fall on a Baltimore street earlier that day that also gave him a bump on the noggin.

That made it tough to play F minor especially, and he winced a bit through a modest set by a songwriter so prolific he was debuting one song he had written the night before. Married to Margo Price, the alt country star who collaborated with Campbell on a song on the new Dirty Knobs record, Ivey’s songs were full of interesting imagery and attitude, such that maybe he should be on the list to collaborate with Campbell for the next Knobs studio effort.

Wicked Mind
Lightning Boogie
Pistol Packin’ Mama
Wreckless Abandon
Irish Girl
Dirty Job
Fuck That Guy
I Still Love You
State of Mind
Fooled Again (I Don’t Like It)
Electric Gypsy
In This Lifetime
Rat City
Southern Accents
Don’t Knock the Boogie
Loaded Gun
Southern Boy

You Got Lucky
Little Queenie
I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better
American Girl
Road Runner / Who Do you Love/ I’m So Glad

This entry was posted in TVD Washington, DC. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text