For Mike Campbell and crew, “Breakdown” took on a whole new meaning on March 20th, as the band’s tour bus had a mechanical failure which had the potential to sideline the Knobs’ second show of the weekend at Boston’s legendary gem, Brighton Music Hall (formerly Harper’s Ferry). The band had played the night before, where attendees claimed to have been ‘Springsteened’ by three hours of music from Campbell’s extensive catalog with the Heartbreakers and the Knobs, featuring many tracks from the recent release, “External Combustion”.
However, Sunday’s vehicular debacle had roadies, managers, media, and fans in a minor tizzy as word had spread that the band was stymied downtown. As music lovers filled the club, San Antonio native and Nashville transplant, Jeremy Ivey and his acoustic guitar hit the stage on time at 8 PM and showcased choice tracks from his latest album, Invisible Pictures. Ivey was clearly well-received as those against the rail clamored for more.
The luck of the Irish must still have been lingering in the air from the day’s annual parade, as the house music kicked and the lights fluttered as Campbell and the Knobs (feat. Matt Laug/drums, Lance Morrison/bass, Jason Sinay/guitar) sauntered down from the green room to the stage – almost on time. Campbell’s colorful get-up and toothy grin helped welcomed his rabid fans before the quartet tore into “Wicked Mind”, the straight-up rocker and lead track from “Combustion”. The Knobs hit the ground runnin’ and didn’t waste any time as they followed “Wicked” with three more rockers that included the Stonesey “Pistol Packin’ Mama” which had the audience of rock and roll veterans groovin’ as they swayed their hips side to side.
Campbell took a breather to question and rib the audience about the Boston Irish community before “Irish Girl” and the grating “Dirty Job”. Campbell gleefully goaded the audience to join in the fun with the call and response of “Fuck That Guy”. The Knobs then cooled down the set with “Love You” and “State of Mind” (all while hopes of Margo Price making an appearance were held high but to no avail). Campbell and Co. then tastefully began to pepper the set with some Petty numbers. The Knobs cleverly and tastefully reimagined “Fooled Again”, “Refugee” and “Southern Accents”. The audience ate it up and emoted for more. The veteran performer knew what he was doing, leaving the die-hards salivating as the band slayed with the blistering “Rat City”, the bluesy “Boogie” and the twang-fueled foot-stomper “Sugar” to close the initial set.
After the obligatory wave and stage-left exit, the Knobs returned for a well-rounded finale. Campbell hit his mark center stage, took his sunglasses off, and connected with his enamored followers in the front rows, pointing at familiar faces and happily trading quips. The Heartbreakers’ MTV staple, “You Got Lucky”, complete with Campbell’s trademark tremolo-laden solo, kicked off the encore and in turn began to fulfill the wishes of those thirsting for some classic Tom Petty tunes. J.J. Cale’s “Humdinger” was a fun tribute as well, however it was “Runnin’ Down a Dream” that brought the house down. The iconic riff had air guitarists playing their hearts out as almost everyone sang along with their best southern drawl.
Though Sunday’s show was not as long as the night before, the Knobs used their time wisely with a healthy mix of Knobs’ and Heartbreakers’ nuggets. Campbell’s talent as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist was on full display. The talented Laug, Morrison, and Sinay clearly factored into how tight the band as a whole. They also appeared to respectfully stick to their roles which gave Campbell the majority of the well-deserved spotlight for the night. Thus, Campbell’s voice and overall aura truly shined – emphasizing just how integral he was to the Heartbreakers’ sound and legacy.