“I felt like I was in high school again,” I heard a woman I’d guess to be in her fifties say as I exited the Arlington Theatre after a rocking Mudcrutch show last Saturday night. It might very well be for good reason, as Mudcrutch (Tom Petty’s band before the band) hasn’t played together publicly-save for a few shows prior to its Santa Barbara gig-since the early ’70s. Still, the band managed to rock, and rock hard, thanks to their twangy country sound, strong piano, and Petty’s forever-memorable vocals.
Playing mostly songs from their soon-to-be-released debut album, Mudcrutch stuck with what worked for Petty (and keyboardist Benmont Tench and guitarist Mike Campbell): the good ole country rock ‘n’ roll that first made the Heartbreakers such a success. From the classic rock ballad “Crystal River” to “Queen of the Go-Go Girls” (which allowed the band to sonically reminisce about their time first playing at a topless club), the aging entertainers seemed to exude energy right out of the gate.
Many songs, including the band’s first single, “Scare Easy,” brought up memories of the Heartbreakers, perhaps because of Petty’s still solid and easily identifiable voice. Even the fact that the band has yet to release an album (Mudcrutch hits shelves at the end of the month) didn’t seem to stop the crowd from getting into the music, feeding off the raw energy the five-piece provided. Tench ripped on the piano at times, with his whirlwind solos and obvious enthusiasm taking over songs (much to the pleasure of the crowd), while Campbell and fellow guitarist Tom Leadon melded licks as if they had spent the last 30-plus years jamming together.
The band paid respect to the greats, covering Bob Dylan’s “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” and The Byrds’ “Lover of the Bayou,” which will also be featured on the band’s upcoming album. But it wasn’t until the encore-which followed a whopping hour-and-a-half-long set-that the crowd really got going. The second, Grease’s “High School Hop,” closed the evening. But the band first returned with Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (better known as the “Everybody Must Get Stoned” song). And if the smell in the bathroom and the puffs of smoke occasionally appearing around the Arlington were any indication, Mudcrutch fans not only enjoyed the show, they proved that when Tom Petty sings, you listen.