Your favorite music will not always be around. Sure, the crystallized moments of studio recordings will endure with all the pink of youth in their hue but the flesh and blood machines that make the music we love are prey to time and tide. It’s a heavy thought and one that started pinging around in my brain on the winding drive through the Santa Cruz foothills. Last year, Tim Bluhm, one of the two principal singer-songwriter-guitarists in the Mother Hips, got in a serious paragliding accident and his future prospects for playing music were in question for a time. Since last December, Bluhm has been making his way back to the stage periodically while healing at home and working on the band’s next album. This jolt has made diehard fans acutely aware that this nigh-perfect “sensitive macho” rock band is also mortal even as it seemed they’d always be around after more than 20 years in the game. So, before they played a note, an air of pervasive, deep gratitude rose in Santa Cruz’s tightly packed Moe’s Alley on February 26th as Bluhm, on crutches, and his brothers in song made their way onstage, the assembled crowd holding tightly with their eyes and thoughts to this oddly pure guitars, bass, drums combo, a rare attentive modern audience present for what the musicians would lay at our feet.
“I know that I don’t know you well but holding your hand I can tell that if I ever lost you I’d be crazed.”
Opener “Later Days” fit the warm, gregarious Friday night audience well, and there weren’t any major missteps afterwards. The past decade has seen an always invigorating but sometimes unpredictable band hone their craft in a way that shows huge respect for their music and the people who gather to hear it. The Hips look one square in the eye and figure out how to get at what you need. There’s no pussyfooting around when they perform anymore, each gig given muscle and strong intention out of the gate. If one hangs with the guys before a gig, they always have some degree of nerves. They care and it shows in the way they handle the material, their graciousness with fans, and their crinkled faces as they stretch and reach for ways to carry the music into interesting, pleasing spaces.
Throughout the evening I was reminded of how their catalog is filled with long-haul tunes, melodies and verses one can grow along with, songs shifting with our changing perspectives, where say once “Rich Little Girl” was just a kick-ass, sing-along stomper and years on it’s an anthem of freedom from an ex-wife from a moneyed family. Perhaps I’ve said too much, but in talking with other Hips faithful at this show this active, organic dynamic was confirmed in their own freely offered tales of how this music has touched their lives. Calling what The Mother Hips do “adult rock” isn’t the dig mainstream culture would paint it. This is rock ‘n’ roll for people with history under their soil and perhaps even a few bodies buried along the way, metaphorically speaking of course.
Even seated, Bluhm is still a force of nature, his ever-present physical pain and recent personal upheaval burnishing his already rich voice and sinewy guitar work with rich textures and fresh resonances. And the pairing of his guitar work with the incisive six-string attack of singer-songwriter Greg Loiacono remains a special relationship, a sound as unique and viscerally exciting as any of rock’s pantheon of twin sluggers like the Allman’s Duane Allman and Dickey Betts or Television’s Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd.
Loiacono was also in fine voice at Moe’s Alley, a great, intimate spot to catch this band in the greater Bay Area, an off- the-beaten path roadhouse with obvious affection for musicians and music lovers. The back and forth of Loiacono and Bluhm’s compositions remains one of the group’s enduring appeals, two strong but strikingly different storytellers that intertwine for something strangely alluring and hard to pull apart with any certainty or clarity. However, complexity like this rarely makes one wiggle their ass and yell, “Goddamit!” at full volume. This beautiful intersection of depth and immediacy is the heart of what makes this band so special.
Most of the audience was still going strong by the contrasting encore moods of dreamy love croon “Motorhome” and pedal to the floorboard rave up “Stoned Up The Road.” Contradictions suit the Hips, not the least of which was how a seated dude had made a room full of folks shimmy at the touch of his hand and the power of his mighty high-howl. The Mother Hips may not always be around but perhaps many of us are more mindful than ever that what they do is good and right and worth holding close while it lasts.
Set One: Later Days, This Dream, Whiskey on a Southbound, One Way Out *, Confirmation of Love, Two Young Queens, Clean Me Up, Gold Plated, October Teen, Mother Hips, Del Mar Station,
Set Two: Esmerelda, Young Charles Ives > Stunt Double, Freed From A Prison, Honeydew, Toughie, Been Lost Once > Song for JB, The Cosmonaut, Time-Sick Son of a Grizzly Bear, White Falcon Fuzz > Turtle Bones > Rich Little Girl
Encore: Motorhome, Stoned Up The Road
* w/Reid Genauer on lead vocals & acoustic guitar. (Also opened the show)
Photos by Andrew Quist
Excellent perspective! The boys still got it..