The Mother Hips | 12.19 & 12.20 | S.F.

Words & Images by: Andrew Quist

The Mother Hips :: 12.19.08 & 12.20.08 :: Great American Music Hall :: San Francisco, CA

The Mother Hips :: 12.20 :: San Francisco
The Mother Hips have been around for about sixteen years. No one lasts that long on the scene without a storied past and firm grip on some damn fine music. And the best part is, they still get better and better. Together they have built a genre commonly referred to as “California Soul” and some call it “Beauty Rock.” It borrows from the Bee Gees and the Beach Boys as much as it does Hank Williams and Neil Young yet is unique to them. The Hips longevity has created a generation of rabid fans that love the sound. They have listened to the music so much that as they branch out and begin bands on their own they find themselves comfortably in this genre. It’s not just blues or country or rock or folk but all these wrapped up nicely, and there is space for these new bands to find their own places within their range. And the Hips, God love ’em, beckon these bands to their fertile fields of sound.

And here is what the annual shows at the Great American Music Hall promised: A gathering of tribes, the fruit of cross-pollination. The bill boasted bands like Ride The Blinds, Big Light, Charles Gonzales, Campo Bravo and Dan Lebowitz and Friends. These two nights brightly spotlighted the talent coming up in the San Francisco area as well as two nights of big sets from The Mother Hips. But, that was not all. Buzz was that NorCal wunderkind Jackie Greene would join the Hips on keys. Most of you know Greene from his jaunts with Phil Lesh & Friends but some of us found Jackie through his collaboration with Tim Bluhm in their wonderful Skinny Singers project and their San Francisco studio, Mission Bells. Jackie can slay a guitar solo and downright burn an organ run, so he adds new dimensions to what the Hips do.

And Jackie was just one of the players from this wellspring of creativity bubbling up from the Mission and districts beyond. It would be fair to say that this community of musicians found themselves really standing together as an entity at the old 12 Galaxies on Outside Lands weekend when a core group played the “Golden Gate Gramble.” Throw in Charles Gonzales, who is working full time at Mission Bells, and you have the Campo Bravo connection. Between friendships, a mutual love of craft, sitting in with each other in various configurations and recording projects, and a common interest in seeing each other do well, we, as fans, start seeing similar bills from show to show and get to know this growing crew a bit better all the time. And at the center, like some kind of psychedelic nucleus are The Mother Hips. It is all very exciting.

Matt Butler w/ The Mother Hips :: 12.19
My wife and I got to the venue early Friday night and there were lots of hugs, handshakes and smiles before Ride the Blinds first hit the stage, and when they hit it the weekend began to soar. Anchored by Bill Cramer on bass, his brother Nick Cramer on drums and Chris Guthridge on guitar, the three played grinding, swinging rock. I love the skinned back emotional power of a trio. At one point during “Sugar Mama,” I swear I heard something that reminded me of Zeppelin mixed with Canned Heat and old Electric Flag. Guthridge’s voice is unassuming and when in unison with his guitar he locks in the listener. Guthridge’s flying fingers, set against Bill’s fat tone and Nick beating the shit out of his kit made for a fine first exposure.

There was a brief reprieve and then the Hips swaggered in. A divine moment of anticipation (which all live music fans relish) and then we were off. “Honeydew” set the stage and we swayed, smiled, hugged and high-fived. Greg Loiacono, lead guitar, dropped a smile and that was all we needed. It was on. They played about five or six songs before Matt Butler entered for a very non-traditional guest spot and the best “Mountain Time” I’ve yet heard.

Butler is the conductor of the Everyone Orchestra and he was up to orchestrate The Mother Hips. Butler came to the table armed with some charts scribbled with chord progressions, genre ideas and a couple of dry erase boards. As the band played he interjected white board departures. Butler basically took my favorite band and my favorite songs and made them do things regular listeners never hear. He is a DJ mixing up live music – A techno jam in the midst of “Magazine,” a raging reggae tangent buried in the dirty depths of “Chum.” In so many words, Butler organically grows a song in the moment. He initiated crescendos, isolated instruments to monster solos and all the while involved the crowd in various calls and responses. The set was beautiful. The “Two Young Queens” > “Chum” > “Figure 11” > “Working Man” sequence was the meat and proved completely unpredictable. It was new and fresh and could only happen that way right there, right then. If you’re a fan of spontaneity then this was the music you seek.

Tim Bluhm – The Mother Hips :: 12.19
There was a short set break and then a second set that boasted musical Mecca for a Hips fan. A beautiful “Colonized,” second song in, proudly took its place as the “Layla” of our time. Clapton might even concede it was just as emotional and perhaps even more powerful. Toward the end of this set, the band began a fully developed and scary “Turtle Bones.” Oh Jackie Greene! He covered this tune with Doors-esque organ fills that sent chills down my spine. The harder half of the song initiated some good-natured elbow throwing and the occasional bump into other audience members followed by smiles and shouts amongst our gang of friends. Then, as the “Turtle Bones” explosion settled, “Pet Foot” initiated a second round of sonic carpet-bombing to stir up the rubble. It did not let up and it was all we could ask for. It was why we were there – pure heat – rock without the beauty but undeniably Californian. They sent us home with a triple encore that boasted an instrumental version of Greene’s “Ball and Chain” and a closing “Rich Little Girl” that left bassist Paul Hoaglin so freaking stoked that he ripped the strings from his Rickenbacker!

The burning question on night two was “How do they top Friday?” Well, right from the get-go the tone was different. Three bands in a single opening set. Each act had just enough time to get their point across before they had to give the stage over to the next act. Charles Gonzales and Campo Bravo led off and quickly wrapped the room up in a warm blanket of reverb that gently bounced off the walls. “Warrior” set the scene of a dreamscape. It was intelligent, measured and sounded perfect. The next song, “Lady of the Shoreline,” a rocker led by Gonzales’ reedy vocals, set the dial to boogie and the room began to move. Campo Bravo ended their set with a dedication, “To all the dirty doves out there,” and the tender opening notes of “Meu Amigo” from Mark Matos‘ solo record, Beach Basement Babylon, eased out over those listening. I dug these guys enough to do further research and was on their website that Sunday downloading music.

Big Light was next. This band, with up to seven members has a BIG sound and boasts a rhythm section that pounds out the backbeat. Their six song set included guest Trevor Garrod from Tea Leaf Green for some flute textures during “Panthers” but it was the set closer “Separation Anxiety” that really showcased Big Lights’ talents. In short, Fred shreds. Fred Torphy lit up his guitar while he and guest Dan Lebowitz (ALO) pushed each other to heights that held the audience wide-eyed. Lebo’s infectious smile made us all feel good and his pedal steel set the music soaring. Good things will come of Big Light. Pay attention to these guys.

Torphy & Lebowitz – Big Light :: 12.20
And it was Lebo and his Friends who had the last word on this opening stretch. Lebo’s buddy on bass and ALO bandmate Steve Adams and Adam’s Big Light bandmate Cochrane McMillan took percussion. Second song in was “Do It Again” with another ALO member, Dave Brogan, onstage to play electric piano. Now, the house was full and from my vantage point upstairs I could see that oneness happening with fans and the band bouncing together. Brogan gave the Rhodes over to Trevor Garrod for “Faded Out of View,” a funky and foggy ode to life in the Richmond District. And with that it was time for The Mother Hips once again.

The Hips set that night was strong. “Let Somebody,” for my money one of the best ballads in recent years, was performed beautifully. “White Headphones” was a wonderful nod to our adopted city for the weekend and all the ladies on Muni that escape into their iPods. The nugget of the night was an absolutely beautiful take on “Parchman Farm,” a not often played set spicer. The other real standout was the marathon “Poison Oak,” where Bluhm swapped his guitar for Jackie’s organ. The pinnacle came when Greene went toe to toe with bassist Paul Hoaglin. Instruments crossed, both glaring each other down with undeniable rock snarls as the two created an auditory hurricane that made us all feel like we were in an old Maxell tape commercial. It was pretty much the highest point of the night. The first of two encores, Neil Young’s “Cowgirl in the Sand,” was damn near perfectly played and done so with utter respect to its creator. The “Hey Emilie” closer reminded us all of our mutual history and sent us out into the San Francisco night.

In the end, the weekend was clearly a celebration of possibilities – all that is to come birthed from all that’s already been. This is the time I have waited for, to be a part of something unfolding NOW. The capacity for breakthrough music from this little community is great, and the scene is young! It forms from a singular San Francisco ooze and I have no idea what it will be when it takes its first steps. I can only hope that the masters take note and bring these “kids” out on the road for the mass exposure they deserve. Their time to take the torch is near at hand, in some cases overdue, and they are worthy.

The Mother Hips :: 12.19.08 :: San Francisco, CA
Set I: Honeydew, Esmerelda, Confirmation of Love, Singing Seems To Ease Me, Del Mar Station, Time We Had, Grizzly Bear, Mountain Time* > Magazine*, Two Young Queens* > Figure 11* > Chum* > Working Man*^
Set II: 3rd Floor Story, Colonize, Later Days, Melody Fair, Bent Carousel, Superwinner, Turtle Bones, Pet Foot
Encore: Collected Some Nerve, Ball and Chain^, Rich Little Girl*
Whole show with Jackie Greene on keyboards
*w/Matt Butler
^Instrumental, Jackie Greene

The Mother Hips :: 12.20.08 :: San Francisco, CA
Red Tandy, Channel Island Girl, Kansas City Southern, Whiskey On A Southbound, White Hills, Song In A Can, Let Somebody, White Headphones, No Name Darrell, Picture of Him, Mother Hips, Life In the City, Parchman Farm, Transit Wind, Mission In Vain, Poison Oak^
Encore: Cowgirl In the Sand, Hey Emilie
Whole show with Jackie Green on keyboards
^Tim on keys, Jackie on guitar

The Mother Hips tour dates available here.

Continue reading for more pics of The Mother Hips Holiday shows…

Hofer & Loiacono – The Mother Hips
Greg Loiacono – The Mother Hips
Fred “The Shred” Torphy – Big Light
Steve Adams – Big Light
Trevor Garrod with Big Light
Mark Matos – Campo Bravo
Matt Butler with The Mother Hips
Ride The Blinds
Lebo & Hoops – Big Light
Dan Lebowitz – Big Light
Lebo & Hoops – Big Light

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