Wannabe rockers of a certain age often talk about getting the old band back together.
Rarely does it happen. And even more rarely does it happen successfully.
Tom Petty is living that dream – mostly because he really IS a rock star with four decades of musical brilliance on his resume.
With Mudcrutch, the band formed in 1970 in Gainesville, Fla., by Petty and guitarist Tom Leadon, the lank-haired musician is able to return to his roots, hang out with his friends and enjoy performing their two-album catalog of robust country-rock.
At a packed, stifling Tabernacle on Thursday, the two Toms were joined by guitarist Mike Campbell on guitar and Benmont Tench on keyboards. Yes, you know them as Heartbreakers, but they, too, were band members in an early incarnation of Mudcrutch. Original drummer Randall March is also part of this reunion, keeping the four-on-the-floor beat and singing lead on the melodically layered “Beautiful World.”
A guest on the tour — which launched May 26 in Denver and encompasses 16 dates – is acclaimed musician Herb Pedersen, whose guitar added a layer of texture to most songs and his banjo and harmonizing with Leadon and Tench augmented “Save Your Water.”
The band played nearly every song from 2008’s self-titled release and the new “Mudcrutch 2,” including their version of The Byrds’ “Lover of the Bayou,” complete with a stinging solo from Campbell, who occasionally doffed his trademark fedora and frequently grinned at the sold-out crowd.
Throughout the show, Petty was gracious and joyful, often spreading his arms wide with a smile, sharing anecdotes about Mudcrutch’s origins and contentedly bobbing alongside Campbell as he thumb-strummed his bass (the instrument he played when Mudcrutch was born).
The easy-going vibe of the concert made the performance feel as if it were taking place in your (very, very large) living room, with Petty, 65, as the warm host.
Petty’s distinctive pinched-nose vocals haven’t rusted with age, whether injecting “I Forgive All” with quiet resignation or steamrolling through “Trailer.” His longtime bandmates were equally sturdy, with Tench, nestled in a cocoon of a baby grand piano, keyboard and organ, adding coats of melody and Campbell offering a series of wizardly guitar solos, highlighted on “Hungry No More” and the “psychedelic bluegrass” romp “The Other Side of the Mountain”.
Next week, Petty will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York. It’s a prestigious industry honor and the type of black-tie- merrymaking that is at odds with his plainspoken north Florida spirit.
When Leadon mentioned the upcoming honor during the concert, Petty reacted by covering his face in mock surprise, then leaned over and touched Leadon’s shoulder in a gesture of thanks – another smile on his face, another content moment in a career that moves forward even when it’s looking back.