Review: Mudcrutch & The Shelters

By Sofia Wolfson

There is something uniquely comforting about seeing a musician live that you have grown up on. Just at the sound of an opening chord or a familiar chorus, memories and places come back. My dad always played Tom Petty on our I-5, Northern California bound road trips; I would tolerate the long rides only because I knew “Change of Heart” or “Surrender” was coming up next on the playlist.

But Mudcrutch itself is so much more than a Tom Petty side-project: It is a true super team of musical legends. There is no other band that has the wicked keyboard talents of Benmont Tench jamming five feet away from guitar icon Mike Campbell. The tones of the Mudcrutch albums carry a strong rock core mixed with “psychedelic bluegrass” influences, as they say, making this band truly different than the members’ other projects.

Mudcrutch’s June 26 show at The Fonda opened up with the rocking pulse of The Shelters, who knew exactly how to command the stage, even as an opening act. The band played a stellar set of songs off of their new record, which was co-produced by Tom Petty himself. Underneath the classic rock n’ roll tones of songs like “Surely Burn” and “Birdwatching” comes something so distinct to The Shelters, whether it be the doubled vocals/harmony of Chase Simpson and Josh Jove, or the pure grooviness of drummer Sebastian Harris. But the true importance of The Shelters is the fact that we do not have a handful of great classic rock bands anymore dominating popular music: this band proves the rock n’ roll is still alive and well in the 21st century.

As I waited for Mudcrutch to take the stage, I listened to the two guys behind me discuss the previous night’s set, and I soon realized that the audience was made up of true, die-hard fans that had seen this show several times prior. You could feel the electricity in the room when the band came out, and from the first moment of handshakes and hugs, it was evident that this was a collection of old friends who cherished being on stage together. After the opening song, the traditional cover “Shady Grove,” a very smiley Tom Petty announced to the audience his discovery: “Sunday night and the drugs still work!”

The set itself had a progression, as the spotlight was passed to different members during songs like “This is a Good Street,” written by keyboardist Benmont Tench. Tom himself told stories about the early days of the band and seemed completely elated to play with this stellar lineup of musicians. There were moments of loud, bright rock with big songs like “Scare Easy,” followed by quieter, more vulnerable acoustic moments with “I Forgive It All.”

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A very special and poignant moment came later in the set: When the band covered the Bob Dylan classic “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Tom substituted in the lyrics “Mama put my automatic weapons in the ground,” a response to recent events in Orlando. The audience went wild, and there was this confirmed sense of community permeating through the venue. Often times we attend shows where there seems to be this void in between the performer and the audience, causing a disconnect. But at the Mudcrutch show, everyone was there together to celebrate this band, this music, and this night.  

The show ended in true Mudcrutch fashion, with an extended jam to “Crystal River,” joined by the night’s special guest Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield. The cool, blue wash of the lights and the slow, psychedelic sounds of this encore was the strong ending to the evening.

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Photo by John Bernstein

So here’s a note from your resident Sonic Blume old soul: listen to the bands that have lived through the decades. They are who inspire the music you listen to today. It’s all a learning experience. ✿

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