We miss Tom Petty. We sure do.

That was obvious Friday night when Mike Campbell & the Dirty Knobs rocked the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. Campbell, Petty's running mate and cowriter in Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers for more than 40 years, started the Dirty Knobs as a side project in 2000. Since Petty died in 2017, Campbell has slowly but surely made the Knobs his fulltime gig.

The Petty aura permeated the evening. There were more Petty than Dirty Knobs T-shirts in the crowd on Friday. "Keep Tom Petty alive," shouted one male concertgoer at one point.

That's the thing with Campbell: He is trying to keep Petty's music alive as well as move forward with his own material. That two Petty hits — "Even the Losers" and "Runnin' Down a Dream" — received the night's biggest cheers was no surprise. That Campbell delved heavily into the Knobs' standout new album, "Vagabonds, Virgins & Misfits," their third disc in four years, was no surprise either.

Campbell, 74, who did a two-year tour with Fleetwood Mac starting in 2018, has grown into a more confident, comfortable and animated frontman since his 2022 appearance at the Fine Line in Minneapolis. He was talkative Friday but he seemed to still possess a sideman's humility. Never cocky, he showed a playfulness the way he lowered his sunglasses to look at the crowd or didn't flinch when his hat fell off.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Famer's humor was apparent when he reminisced about the Replacements — "are they from this town?" — opening for Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1989. He described bassist Tommy Stinson as the "smartest assiest of the asses" who asked if they wrote "Runnin' Down the Drain [sic]." "You wish you had a song as good as this," Campbell remembered telling the then 23-year-old smart aleck.

As a singer, Campbell recalled Petty, in tone, timbre and Floridian drawl. Similarly, he was not a forceful singer but an effective one. He let his guitar speak volumes, though. As he did with Heartbreakers, he did a jangly Byrds thing with a Rickenbacker, galvanized with a Gretsch round top, stung with slide guitar and even strapped on a Strat. He didn't take concise solos like Eric Clapton does but when he rocked out, he didn't get carried away like he was auditioning for a jam band. Campbell was the perfect guitar hero for people needing a Petty fix.

During his invigorating two-hour set, Campbell dug into the Petty catalog for "All or Nothin'," which he said he'd played only once before live. He managed to make his guitar chime and sting at the same time. For "Ways to Be Wicked," another deep track, Campbell brought out Welsh singer Holly B; the song appears on a new tribute album, "Petty Country," sung by alt-twanger Margo Price with Campbell on guitar. On Friday, it became a piano boogie featuring a skillful cruise-ship vocalist.

Campbell was joined by another guest female singer, opening act Shannon McNally, for "Hell or High Water," his new song on which Lucinda Williams duets on the record. McNally added the ideal touch on her verse and harmonies on the downbeat tune. Other "Vagabonds" numbers were more up-tempo including the Yardbirds-evoking "Shake These Blues" and the Stones-like "So Alive."

Not only was Campbell more impressive this time around but so were the revamped Dirty Knobs. New guitarist/keyboardist Chris Holt added depth and range as well as vocal harmonies. And newly rehired drummer Steve Ferrone, who played with the original Knobs in 2000 and spent 25 years with Petty and the Heartbreakers, provided the rock-solid rhythms, the right spirit and another reminder how much we miss Tom Petty.