The Ryman Auditorium is sacred ground for most performing musicians. Folks don’t generally screw around on that stage. When a large percentage of the audience is comprised of songwriters, musicians, producers, engineers, et. al, many artists forgo their natural, experimental tendencies and “Play The Hits.” This was not really an option for Mudcrutch when they stepped onto the hallowed floorboards of the “Mother Church” Tuesday evening.
Led by bassist/frontman Tom Petty, Mudcrutch treated the audience to a two-hour set of expertly-crafted songs, stellar musical interplay, and zero sing-alongs. If, like a few ticket holders I spoke with outside, you aren’t too familiar with the band and why they’re touring behind they’re second album since forming in 1970, take Petty’s advice and “google it.”
The eager, yet curious audience welcomed the musicians onstage where they promptly launched into a powerful cover of “Shady Grove,” from their 2007 album. “Orphan Of The Storm” followed before Petty and Co. sealed the deal with the trucker anthem, “6 Days On The Road,” made famous by Dave Dudley. By this point, the sound in the Ryman had now settled to perfection.
“Scare Easy” was next and was, as the kids say, “Heat.” Totes For Realz. Classic Petty elements and one of his best songs, in my opinion. Sometime-Heartbreakers, Guitarist Mike Campbell and Keyboard Wizard Benmont Tench brought this one into a texturally, musical space that would remain for the rest of the evening – that sweet-spot between familiarity and the unknown that makes Mudcrutch so easy to love, regardless of how well you know the tunes.
More heartfelt, yet witty songs, delivered with a loose precision only few are capable of, followed. The Byrds’ nugget, “Lover of the Bayou,” seemed much more believable coming from this Gainesville crew, with all due respect, and Tench took a lead vocal on the quirky but somewhat short. “Good Street.” While Mudcrutch appears to operate like a band of equals, the pacing of the show was reminiscent of Petty’s brilliant ability to please a crowd, while doing exactly what he wants.
Drummer Randy Marsh(!) assumed vocal duties on the upbeat, poppy, “Beautiful World.” This song brought tears, especially considering the story of Mudcrutch. “Its a beautiful world, so hold me tight. I’ve had to fight every day of my live, its a beautiful world.” Its a beautiful song. Hold it tight.
Described as “the world’s first psychedelic bluegrass tune,” “The Other Side of The Mountain,” featured lead vocals by Nashville’s resident Mudcrutch, Tom Leadon. So Cal string legend Herb Pederson, a guest on this tour, jumped on banjo for this one, proving again that dynamics and skill will always trump flash and stunt playing. Leadon also delivered a handful of tasty guitar solos throughout the set, which seemed even more impressive with Mike Campbell standing only a few feet away.
In a show with too many magical moments to list here, “Crystal River” was a highlight. The tune featured an extended jam and a level of interplay some younger bands could really learn from, with Petty egging Tench on to “play, play that piano.” These cats really listen, and react, fully-engaged in the prospect of bringing something new into the world, via textures and melodies. Unlike Petty, Tench, and Campbell’s other band, there was a bit more reckless abandon regarding endings and extended jams. It wasn’t always perfect, or comfortable, but it was absolutely real.
Campbell stepped up to the mic on “Victim Of Circumstance,” which sounded right at home in Nashville. The upbeat, Wilbury-esque ditty also marked a point in the show when everyone in the band had taken a lead vocal. Everyone in Mudcrutch writes and sings with a distinct, skillful, lovable delivery. Its a rare and wondrous thing to hear a band such as this in 2016.
This show hit all the corners for me. The often-subdued Ryman audience stayed on their feet for the entire show, which doesn’t always happen. I’ve been tapped on the shoulder and asked to sit down at many a Ryman performance, but this night was different. People were drawn to the stage like plants sucking up sunlight. The audience was genuinely FEELING the music, in a venue that can quickly turn into a polite “listening room” if artists don’t make with the hits. Here’s a band, half made up of chart-topping legends, playing zero hits of their own, to fully-engaged Nashville audience. “The Wrong Thing To Do,” took on a new meaning this night. “Its the wrong thing to do but, I don’t care.”
No one in the audience was ready to leave by the time Sax legend Jim Horn appeared for an encore of Chuck Berry’s “Carol.” A powerhouse rendition of Jerry Lee Lewis’, “High School Confidential” followed, and only then it seemed like the band and audience were really done. Horn’s Baritone sax transported the room back to the 50’s with ease, and it seemed the whole show was happening in some other time, before Pop Stars were manufactured on Game Shows.
It’d be a crime to not mention the support band, The Shelters who were extremely impressive. Great songs, tight vocals, and unique guitar stylings/tones really got the attention of the often critical Nashville audience. A lot of bands grumble when you reference other acts they remind you of, but I got a little West Coast Humble Pie meets Badfinger vibe from them, and I will probably buy their album. I will certainly go see them live again. They moved their own gear after their set, too, so I gotta love them.
Shady Grove – Traditional
Orphan of the Storm
Six Days on the Road – Dave Dudley
This Is a Good Street
Lover of the Bayou – The Byrds
Dreams of Flying
Save Your Water
Hungry No More
I Forgive It All
House of Stone
The Other Side of the Mountain
Welcome to Hell
Victim of Circumstance
The Wrong Thing to Do
Carol* – Chuck Berry
High School Confidential* – Jerry Lee Lewis
* Jim Horn on Bari Sax