[23 April 2012]
The Mother Hips first came on the scene back in the early ‘90s, bursting out of Northern California and largely predating the modern jam rock scene. The band certainly showed promised, headlining San Francisco’s legendary Fillmore Auditorium as early as 1994. But the band’s star didn’t really rise along with many of their compatriots in the late ‘90s and there was a time in the aughts when it looked like the psyche-roots-rockers were on the verge of breaking up and fading away.
But that thankfully did not happen and the band has been on a major resurgence over the past five years, presenting an admirable lesson to all rock ‘n’ rollers to never say die. 2007’s Kiss the Crystal Flake seemed to pump new life into the band and 2009’s Pacific Dust followed with another strong collection of tunes to help revitalize an already strong repertoire.
Co-founders Tim Bluhm (vocals/guitar) and Greg Loiacono (guitar/vocals) have also kept busy with various side projects, with Bluhm even recently scoring some time in Phil Lesh & Friends at Lesh’s new Terrapin Crossroads venue in San Rafael. But the Mother Hips have been delivering some of the best shows of their career in recent years and have built up their rep as a live band not to be missed on the festival scene or when they’re coming to your town.
Saturday night in downtown San Diego’s thriving Gaslamp District makes for a prime opportunity to catch the band in action on a party night. The band hits the stage shortly after ten and gets right down to business. “Time-sick Son of a Grizzly Bear” is an early highlight, featuring the dueling riffs and stellar harmonies that make Bluhm and Loiacono such a great team. Long time bassist Paul Hoaglin is sadly on extended hiatus and his epic 12-string bass is certainly missed. But replacement Scott Thunes seems to have chops cut from similar musical DNA (he spent most of the ‘80s playing with no less than Frank Zappa.) Thunes keeps the low end pulsing all night in perfect synch with drummer John Hofer to keep the band’s signature sound in place.
“White Falcon Fuzz” is another winner, a gorgeously fuzzy and melodic anthem from Bluhm’s songwriting resurgence in the late aughts. The song’s great lyrics distill the philosophy that seems to keep the band going, with Bluhm singing about channeling musical vibes from the fifth dimension and triumphing over the skepticism of certain music industry biases. The band soon dips deep into their back catalog with the raucous “Magazine”, featuring some great syncopated guitar riffs over a surging bass line that never fails to get a room moving. Lots of bands are dipping into all manner of electronics and effects to generate their psychedelia these days, with compelling results in many cases. But the Mother Hips provide a great service to the music world by continuing to demonstrate how a basic two-guitars/bass/drums quartet can still get it done old school style.
Loiacono stars on “Del Mar Station”, one of the band’s best tunes, from 2001’s Green Hills of Earth. This infectiously melodic tune would surely have been a huge hit single if only it had have received the necessary promotion, and it’s always a treat to hear Loiacono hit the song’s emotional high notes. “Third Floor Story” is another classic gem, with sharp bluesy riffs mixing with some sweeter vocal theatrics in the band’s now trademark fashion. The lyrics also feature a great lament over record industry hypocrisy that only rings more true as the years pass by.
The energy level surges to a peak at the end of the show with “Can’t Sleep at All”, a tune that melds a shimmering vocal line from Bluhm with a big melodic bass line for a Beatle-esque flair that recalls classics like “Rain” and “All Too Much”. It all adds up to one of the band’s best grooves and best jam vehicles. The band extends the groove as Bluhm and Loiacono riff out on a big jam that leads into a crowd-pleasing teaser segment of Led Zeppelin’s “Living Loving Maid”, before segueing back into “Can’t Sleep” to close out the set with a flourish. Has it really been almost two hours already? Time flies when great rock ‘n’ roll is being delivered with such consistency.
“Stoned Up the Road” is a great encore choice for the Saturday night party crowd, a down and dirty blues rocker. Then Bluhm’s wife Nicki and her band the Gramblers come out to collaborate on the final tune. Another rocking jam is soon threatened though when a fan comes on stage and grabs a microphone. He’s quickly grabbed by a stagehand but provides such resistance that one of the Gramblers is then moved to try and help take care of him, only to wind up getting grabbed by the resisting fan and dragged off with him in the mayhem! But like the professionals that they are, the Mother Hips keep the jam going the whole time, in typical rock ‘n’ roll fashion, for the show must go on.