"This is such a trip," bassist Tom Petty said from the Troubadour stage. "I gotta get used to this." ( Reuters )
If some elements of that sentence caught many folks off guard - bassist Tom Petty at the Troubadour? - so did Friday's joyful show by Mudcrutch, the decades-dormant precursor to the Heartbreakers. The presence of three Rock and Roll Hall of Famers in the tiny setting basically guaranteed a memorable night out, but the band's songs and performance made it that much more. And it was enhanced by the broad smiles, nostalgic chemistry and obvious fun being had onstage.
Mudcrutch comprises Petty and eternal bandmates Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench along with original singer-guitarist Tom Leadon and drummer Randall Marsh. The Gainesville, Fla, band was active from 1970-75, and its sound is rooted in the era's Burritos-fried L.A. country rock - with a palpably raw Southern kick.
Campbell and Leadon traded solos; Petty and Leadon traded lead vocals, with Tench singing his contribution to the band's self-titled album, due Tuesday via Reprise. The band played all 14 songs on the disc, which features eight Petty originals - some of which are among his best since the mid-'90s.
None was better than the longest, slowest song of the night. The recorded version of " Crystal River" runs three minutes longer than anything on a Petty album, and this epic rendering went even further. Leadon played slide during an Allmans-esque break that loosed Campbell on the packed room. The song was a stunner.
The Byrds cover "Lover of the Bayou," also from the album, was the night's other standout. It sounded like a faster precursor and eventual successor to "Mary Jane's Last Dance," with Leadon, Campbell and Tench all taking brief but scorching solos.
Not everything was as solid. "Scare Easy" is simple midtempo post-Wilburys Petty, a safe but uninspired choice for lead single. And Leadon's "Queen of the Go-Go Girls" is a toss-off with obvious, forced lyrics and a plodding melody that slowed the show's momentum.
For his part, Petty was in fine voice - though he noticeably nasaled-up his vocals for the first of two Bob Dylan covers in the 110-minute set. He was in a chatty mood, adding typically humorous intros to many songs and enjoying the moment. "It's just been incredible," he said of the band's reunion and brief West Coast tour, including six nights at the Troubadour. "Something I'll remember all my life."
With the recent flood of high-profile reunions and rumors of such, a Mudcrutch redux wasn't on anyone's radar. But they did this for themselves, not us.