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Live Review: Mike Campbell and the Dirty Knobs at Park West • Chicago

| April 4, 2022

Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs


Mike Campbell & the Dirty Knobs

Park West, Chicago, IL

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Review by Jeff Elbel

Photo by Chris Phelps

After a delay of two full years, Mike Campbell was finally able to bring his band the Dirty Knobs to Park West. The guitarist and former Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers co-captain welcomed fans and offered more than two hours of “rock and roll healing.” “We are the Dirty Knobs, and we sound like this,” said Campbell, launching “Wicked Mind” from the band’s new album External Combustion. Campbell played slippery slide guitar licks during “Lightning Boogie” while guitarist Jason Sinay held a taut Chuck Berry-styled running rhythm and drummer Matt Laug played a punishing beat. Campbell was encouraged by the response. “I can tell this is gonna be good already,” he said, professing a love for the people of Chicago and the blues and boogie music birthed here.

Drawing upon poise developed during a 40-year career with the Heartbreakers and more recent time with Fleetwood Mac, Campbell looked the part of the true rock and roll star decked out with a top hat, vest, scarf, bangles, and sunglasses. The rest of the well-seasoned Knobs weren’t as flashy, presenting themselves more like an ace working-class bar band in basic black. The Knobs were highly convincing on roadhouse roots-rocker “Pistol Packin’ Mama,” full of twang, snarl, and attitude. Lance Morrison played cartwheeling bass during the title track to 2020’s Wreckless Abandon, for which Campbell switched from his classic Gibson Thunderbird to a chiming Rickenbacker guitar. Campbell was pleased with the instrument, with its sound familiar to many attendees via Heartbreakers favorites like “American Girl.” “I just beat the shit out of it, and it’s still in tune,” he enthused. The 12-string guitar was deployed again during the winsome “Irish Girl,” dedicated to a woman near the stage.

“Dirty Job” was a rowdy rocker with a crunchy unison guitar riff. The song was dedicated to Mott the Hoople singer Ian Hunter, who guested on the External Combustion album. At Park West, Sinay covered Hunter’s vocal with spirit and played an inspired solo to match. “I told you, just wait ‘til we get to Chicago,” said Campbell to his bandmates while basking in the audience’s ovation.

Campbell revealed that the comical diss track “Fuck that Guy” was musically inspired by J.J. Cale, whom the guitarist had seen years earlier at Park West. The crowd joined with a boisterous singalong. “You guys are so bad,” said Campbell afterward with a broad grin and a laugh. “It’s funny. I never ask anybody to sing along at these gigs, and they always sing along on that song–and so, it’s coming from someplace deep.” The band then lashed into the heavy rocker “I Still Love You,” with a crashing cadence like Led Zeppelin playing the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).”

“We’re here promoting two albums, but I’m also here to carry on the tradition and acknowledge some things in the past,” Campbell said, offering a treat for the many longtime Heartbreakers devotees in the room. “This is a deep track from a while ago. You may not know this song, but I wrote it with my partner and I really like this one,” Campbell added, referring to the late Petty. The band played the hidden gem “Can’t Stop the Sun” from The Last DJ, pivoting between pensive reflection and irrepressible defiance. Campbell then unified everyone in the room with an understated but intense interpretation of a major Heartbreakers hit. “I’m not political, but this song can read that way,” he said. “It’s an old song. It was written at a time when it really made sense, and unfortunately, it still makes sense today.” The band then played “Refugee” interpreted in a hushed and simmering waltz-time arrangement. Afterward, Campbell requested and received a moment of silence “for the disenfranchised.”

Campbell and Sinay faced off for intertwining solos during “Rat City.” “The only thing better than a guitar solo is two of ‘em at the same time,” quipped Campbell afterward. The band continued with the twanging country-rock vibe of “Electric Gypsy.” The reflective “In this Lifetime” included echoes of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” Laug played the song’s subdued beat with mallets while Campbell stretched into solo passages with mellow beauty. The lusty “Sugar” provided a solo showcase for Morrison, framed by Campbell and Sinay with their Thunderbird guitars in a picturesque moment. Campbell referenced his personal and musical roots with an intimate version of Heartbreakers title track “Southern Accents,” played with a gentle swing.

Campbell played stinging slide guitar solos and howling blues harmonica during “Don’t Knock the Boogie,” a barroom tall tale and talking blues number a la John Lee Hooker. “Loaded Gun” was a garage rock raver that gave Sinay another chance to display his considerable chops. The main set closed with the ZZ Top-styled fuzzed-out boogie “Southern Boy.” Campbell leaned into the song’s opening line “She came from Chicago on the CTA.”

The Dirty Knobs encored with another Heartbreakers treat, playing Long After Dark track “You Got Lucky.” During an extended solo, Campbell quoted guitar lines from significant songs including “Breakdown,” “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me),” “Hang ‘Em High,” “Boys of Summer,” “James Bond Theme,” “Rhiannon,” “Walk Don’t Run,” “Eleanor Rigby” and more. “We’re having a mighty time,” said Campbell before burning the house down with Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie.” The song was accompanied by a story about visiting Chess Records on Michigan Avenue and seeing Chuck Berry’s humble sleeping quarters. The crowd reached fever pitch with the band’s explosive performance of final song “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”

It was indeed a great night of rock and roll healing that made fans more than happy they’d held onto their tickets since early 2020. Those lucky punters and others who missed out will have a chance for another taste when the Dirty Knobs return on July 23, 2022, to open for Chris Stapleton at Wrigley Field.

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