Roxian Theater, McKees Rocks, PA, September 2, 2022

Reviewed by Michael Rampa

When Mike Campbell stumbled into what became an impromptu audition for Mudcrutch with an $80 Japanese guitar decades ago, Tom Petty was certain it would be terrible. After paying a few bars, Campbell got the gig and would be on his way to a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Heartbreakers.

During his nearly five-decade run with Petty, he played with his side band The Dirty Knobs. They are vastly different from the Heartbreakers and clearly feature Campbell’s influences from Sixties to punk and psychedelia. The outfit is raw and gritty with dirtied-up vocals, and the band has only has one speed: supersonic. There is no trace of the radio friendly three-minute singles that dominate Petty’s catalog.

If there was was any doubt about Campbell holding his own as a front man, those fears were allayed as he strode to stage in head to toe velvet wielding his guitar like a samurai sword to perform a triple shot from their latest album, “External Combustion.”

The dose of “Wicked Mind,” “Lightning Boogie” and the title track set the tone for the auditory assault that was coming over the next two hours.

While Campbell painted textures from all-out shreds to an Irish waltz, which he did on a breathtaking slowed down version of “Refugee” with the crowd singing in spellbound unity.

Mid-set, the rhythm section shined thanks to drummer Matt Laug and bassist Lance Morrison. They stood out mostly on numbers from the band’s debut 2020 debut “Wreckless Abandon,” which comprised the middle of the set.

It began with a quirky collaboration with Chris Stapleton “FucK That Guy.” Campbell enlisted Jason Sinay as his sideman dubbing him “the closest thing to Brian Jones I’ve ever heard.” The crowd got an early dose of Petty with 1979’s “Even the Losers.” Campbell said his goal was always to be in a band and he never wanted to be a solo act. It was clear that everyone in the audience was a Petty fan given they almost drowned out the band on the triple encore of “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” “So You Want to Be a Rock’n’ Roll Star” and Bo Diddley’s “Road Runner.”

Dirty Knobs may not be Hall of Fame contenders, but they are forging their own identity and are a damn good ride.