Words & Images by: Andrew Quist
The Mother Hips :: 05.17.08 :: The Fat Cat :: Modesto, CA
If California's landscape had a tangible sound it would be The Mother Hips. They were spawned from a music scene built by The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, certainly Neil Young and, dare I say it, that unique brand of San Francisco psychedelia that conjures images of hippies swirling about The Fillmore circa '67. Often this mix is altogether assaulting and then soothing in a single turn. A Mother Hips song can range from anthemic to under-stated, as growling, heavy riffed guitars give way to angelic harmonies that leave a previously fist-pumping fan subdued and contemplative.
The band has been around since the early '90s and has worked the West Coast and Western United States the whole time. They can't be pigeonholed and have flown under the radar for too long. Whatever the case, it is time to notice these guys. I kind of hate writing this, I feel like I'm letting out a long guarded secret. But, if any band deserves recognition it is The Mother Hips. Four years back on the scene after a short hiatus, last year they introduced an album (Kiss The Crystal Flake) that boasts tunes that will certainly become catalog standards, as well as some time tested classics that finally made the cut. A recent successful East Coast tour, along with big upcoming dates at High Sierra and Outside Lands this summer found the Hips roaring into the raging epicenter of the San Joaquin Valley - Modesto. Unfortunately, The Fat Cat has a laundry list of rules and even a freaking dress code. But, we can look past the handcuff toting security guards and enjoy the night for what it was: The Mother Hips doing their California Soul thing in a uniquely California town.
The Mother Hips faced the situation with a professional's pluck and, as expected, consummate musicianship. The set spanned their entire discography including the Red Tandy EP. Four songs into the set, "Magazine" from Part Timer Goes Full and "Chum" from the band's 1992 debut, Back To The Grotto, brought the psychedelia with raging guitar solos from musical brothers Greg Loiacono and Tim Bluhm. These guys are the soulful bedrock of their sound and their mingling vocals and guitar virtuosity prove it. They stabbed, punched, screamed and crooned their way through these old tunes revealing the grit and intelligence that comprises the strength of this band; all this over the bottom end and solid backbeat of Paul Hoaglin (bass) and John Hofer (drums). Hofer and Hoaglin provide the perfect foil for Bluhm and Loiacono to do their thing. Hoaglin does more than just provide an anchor, he plays that "lead bass" reminiscent of a Dave Schools. His animated playing and downright quirky stage presence is endearing and powerful. All the while, Hofer holds the beat like a metronome, not flashy but imminently dependable with occasional mad fills a la Animal of the famed Electric Mayhem.
The new material from Crystal Flake featured Loiacono's more prominent role these days as a songwriter with "No Name Darrell" and "White Hills." Loiacono has often given a nugget or two per album but on their latest offering five of the twelve songs are his. Those played in Modesto were rockers tinged with pop that blended feedback with sometimes-celebratory, screeching vocals. Hoaglin digs these tunes. They are, after all, tracks from the one Mother Hips record that declares his full member status after years of production work and backing instrumentation with the band. He laughed, grimaced and rocked all the way through the new ones.
Tim Bluhm :: 05.17 :: Modesto, CA
After chugging through the set, we were treated to what I consider to be any native Californian's new anthem as an extended intro blossomed into "Time-Sick Son of a Grizzly Bear." The song features Bluhm's vocal and lyrical ability as he spells out his displacement from and frustration with today's California. He recounted the state's extinct mascot, the California Grizzly, lumbering over once open floodplains, rivers flowing clear and unobstructed to Baja, and the timeless cypress groves of old Monterey (where only the rich can now reside). Those of us who truly love the soul of this state and the cultures that are being maligned and homogenized can surely relate. And that was the sentiment with which they left us.
It was painful to hear the lackluster applause for the encore, yet out the band walked for what I thought would be one more. Typically, segues are not the norm for The Mother Hips but the norm was abandoned. The band slid from a rocking "Can't Sleep At All" into the grinding, weighty chords of Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf." It was a tease but a tease of one of the greatest stoner anthems ever composed. It moved deftly into the Hips' own "Stoned Up the Road," as if the two were always meant to stand side by side. Only one phrase can properly describe the sound: FILTHY DIRTY. I flailed, I fist pumped. It caused as big a stage rush as fifteen late night rockers could produce, and for a moment arena rock pumped The Fat Cat. As the last note of the last song buzzed into the ether we did not want it to end. But, The Fat Cat made sure it did.
Before the band could leave the stage and before hands could finish waving goodbye, we were assaulted by what can only be termed auditory tear gas. The P.A. unleashed club music, easily three times louder than the band's volume, on the suddenly dazed crowd. We scattered like panicked ants and fled past a line of eagerly awaiting, recreationally addled club chicks.
The Mother Hips :: 05.17.08 :: The Fat Cat :: Modesto, CA
Esmerelda, Red Tandy, Time We Had, No Name Darrell, Magazine, Chum, Del Mar Station, Life In The City, Two Young Queens, Bent Carousel, White Hills, Time Sick Son of a Grizzly Bear
Encore: Can't Sleep At All > Sweet Leaf Tease > Stoned Up The Road
The Mother Hips are on tour now, dates available here...
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