With a long, arduous 2015 behind him, The Mother Hips’ cofounding guitarist Tim Bluhm slowly adjusts his seat center stage at Moe’s Alley in Santa Cruz, CA last Friday, February 26. It’s hard to tell if his facial expression bears sharp pain or intense anticipation.
He can’t walk himself across the stage and so is helped by his band mates and road crew. The alt-rock crooner is known for his full tilt energy on and off the stage, but an unfortunate speed flying accident in September 2015 left the right side of his body literally shattered and his ankle snapped clean in half.
Aside from New Year’s Eve, the Moe’s Alley show is the first show of 2016 and fifth since the accident. The small stage packed tons of energy, however. The Mother Hips, cofounded by Bluhm and guitarist Greg Loiacono, also feature John Hofer on drums and bassist Scott Thunes, who made a name for himself playing in Frank Zappa’s band from 1981-1988.
Coming from an era of prolific studio sessions and a wide array of inspiration, the Hips’ 8th studio disc Chronicle Man represents a new angle of their most fertile cutting room floor tracks that got shelved between a shuffling record label and band hiatus. But their current tour is less in support of something than it is in support of someone.
Days before the Hips’ March 4th play through of Later Days at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, CA, a warm-up in anticipation of a full tour starting at the end of the month, a long-time friend of The Mother Hips came out of the woodwork, unsolicited.
Jay Blakesburg, one of the most prolific photographers of modern times, began a GoFundMe campaign on behalf of Bluhm and his rising medical expenses. With a set goal of $35k to cover the 5 surgeries/infections that have already happened and prepare for at least two more, the page has raised over $45k in less than 10 days’ time. At the time of the Santa Cruz show, the campaign was already at half of the goal and the outpour of support from the fans was thick in the air. The Mother Hips were all smiles as they worked their way through the set list.
The quintet took the stage just after 10:00 PM and launched into the titular track from 1998’s album, Later Days. The next six songs touched on six different albums, an indication of the impact each snapshot of The Mother Hips’ career carries forward.
“This Dream”, “Whiskey On A Southbound” and “One Way Out” followed the opening of the first set, with opening act Reid Genauer of the folk band Assembly Of Dust lending his booming voice to the latter track.
Loiacono took over on vox for the next tune “Confirmation Of Love,” a funky, rock ‘n roll swing tune that sounded like a late-night love child between Tom Petty and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, leaving a sense of nostalgia for mid-90s rock prior to the nu-metal wave.
Dipping back into the signature California soul sound, Loiacono and Thunes took turns doubling each other’s riffs and challenging each other while Bluhm’s atmospheric tone and melodic voicings provided a nice flying caret for the band to soar on, closing the set out with “October Teen”, “Mother Hips” and “Delmar Station” at 11:00 PM.
Half an hour later, The Mother Hips re-emerged for a second set and with a sharp, piercing little guitar rip indicated that they were wasting no time getting right down to business as they launched into another Later Days track, “Esmeralda”.
Thunes’ performance in the second set was worth the price of admission on its own. It might have been easy to think that he was overcompensating for Bluhm’s lack of mobility, but it could also be more strongly argued that the stage was simply not enough room to contain him.
Luckily, the atmospheric rhythm guitar of Bluhm and the tight tempo of Hofer helped ground Thunes’ grandiose bass fills and power lunges across the stage. But just when it seemed Bluhm was comfortable sitting back, he revved up an incredible emulation of Michael “Mikey” Houser. The late founding guitarist of Widespread Panic for whom the band is named was infamous for taking a seated position onstage before his death in 2002.
Featuring a wide range of feedback tones and distortion, Bluhm was all over the fret board on “Young Charles Ives” before the slower, calming country tune “Stunt Double”. “Freed From A Prison” from 2013’s Behind Beyond saw all four members taking turns complimenting fills and stepping up the energy another notch.
An extended guitar jam in the middle section of a ten minute “Been Lost Once” was a heavy favorite among the crowd. With a very bluesy, Southern rock sound, Bluhm and Loiacono went back and forth in a huge call and response section.
“Song For JB”, “The Cosmonaut” and “Time Sick Son Of A Grizzly Bear”, which also appeared as a playable track in the Rock Band video game series, did not let up on any of the energy leading up to an 11 minute rendition of “Turtle Bones”.
One of the oldest tunes in the Hips’ playbook off of the 1992 debut album Back To The Grotto, “Turtle Bones” featured the rowdiest and most loose performance from the group. A grating, abrasive style of slide guitar dominated the otherwise country tune, eventually to the point that it felt like a legitimate “Bulls On Parade” jam before the band dropped into a fake out ending before returning to the main riff.
The band left the stage at quarter to 1:00 AM, and returned moments later for a three song encore blast. Running through uptempo songs “Motorhome”, “Stoned Up The Road” and “Rich Little Girl”, the show was over just after 1:00 AM.
On March 4, The Mother Hips play Later Days in its entirety at The Belly Up near San Diego and they kick off an extensive Spring Tour near the end of the month.
2016-02-26, The Mother Hips @ Moe’s Alley, Santa Cruz, CA
Set 1: Later Days, This Dream, Whiskey on a Southbound, One Way Out*, Confirmation of Love, 2 Young Queens, Clean Me Up, Gold Plated, October Teen, Mother Hips, Delmar Station
Set 2: 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
Encore: Motorhome, Stoned Up The Road, Rich Little Girl
* - w/ Reid Genauer (Assembly Of Dust)