Last Friday was a long time coming. The week seemed to drag on to the point where I spent a great deal of Thursday staring at the clock, doing my best to force time to speed up by the sheer force of my will and failing miserably. There had been deadlines and long work days since Monday morning and it drained me to the core. I needed Friday badly. You see, on Friday, the Mother Hips were coming to town. By Wednesday I was jonesing pretty bad. Friday was a long time coming for certain.
I got to the venue early and grabbed a table by the wall to wait for the right moment to give up my seat. The Doug Fir Lounge in Portland is a very intimate theater with a low rise stage that faces a roughly 30’ by 40’ dance floor. Behind the dance floor is a set of stairs leading to the bar area and merch table on one side, with the sound booth in the middle and a ramp to the bar on the other side. There are a few tables on either wall to the side, but sitting down affords one only a good look at the back of most of the audience. The best place to be at the Doug Fir is on the stairs, leaning back against the front of the sound booth. One or two steps up, with something to lean on behind me to rest my aching back and an unobstructed view of the stage, I try to grab this spot whenever I’m here.
I needed to sit till the last moment to rest up for the show. Triple bill, with Matthew Lindley & Troubadour Deluxe first and Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit in the middle slot. I grabbed the spot on the stair just ahead of a couple who were content to be against the booth, but one step down.
READ ON for the rest of AJ’s review of the Mother Hips…
As I said, Matthew Lindley & Troubadour Deluxe were the openers. If it falls on the opening act to truly warm up a crowd, in a bar, on a Friday night, ML&TD did the trick just fine. Not too flashy, just a five-piece with a few pretty harmonies, glib songwriting and a lead guitarist (Dean Kattari) that deftly noodled through each song like it was the first one he ever learned. Lindley’s songs tend toward the stories of Americana; sappy love songs, soul baring confessionals with a sense of fun and a country edge. Highlight was their set closer, Waited So Long. This was a choppy pop rocker with a bluesy lead lick and jazzy fill in the middle that stayed with me for a while.
In the center slot of the night was Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Isbell has been making thoughtful rock music for years and, judging from how many attendees were singing along during most of the set, his following is growing. And with good reason. These were straight out rock songs with serious subject lines between power chords (Soldiers Get Strange tackles first person PTSD) next to country tinged blues love songs (Cigarettes And Wine) complete with tales of woe and redemption with a Zappa guitar riff just to keep it interesting.
Next up was the band I had been waiting for, San Francisco’s Mother Hips. They began right on time with the first tune off their latest album, Pacific Dust. White Falcon Fuzz was a great way to start. It is almost country smooth to start, with a memorable chorus and sweet harmonies, that took full advantage of the Mother Hips California Soul in both attitude and harmony. But before you could say crossover hit, the song dissolved into a blaze of wild guitar fuzz and funk, dispelling any rumors that the Hips have finally sold out for radio play. And, while the show did highlight the new disc, the Hips tossed in enough crowd pleasers and rarities to keep even the most skeptical fan happy.
Time Sick Son Of A Grizzly Bear followed, with a nice little extended jam in the middle that almost had me dancing off my second step perch. The band was tight as usual, with Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono up front on guitars and Paul Hoaglin on bass and John Hofer on drums. After Red Tandy, the band stopped for moment to say hi and comment about Portland. They introduced the new album, just released last month, and played a two-fer from the album that just floored me. The one two punch of Third Floor Story and Jess oxoxo was played with crack timing from the rhythm section and great interplay between guitarists Bluhm and Loiacono. I knew they had me by then. And there was nothing to worry about with the rest of the crowd either. There was actually a sparsely populated area in front of the sound booth as the crowd pushed forward to get closer to the funk, now less than forty feet away. I had a little room to get down with my bad self without losing my prime viewing area. I couldn’t help but take advantage of the extra room and boogied forward into the crowd.
It was going wonderfully out amongst the crowd. The Mother Hips had us in the palm of their hand. I danced and danced in the crowd until the band turned up Stoned Up The Road. Then I, still dancing mind you, joined the rest of the crowd in the sing along and the sweat, reveling in joyous feeling of community and happiness of spirit.
That was pretty much the story for the second half of the Hips set. Young Charles Ives highlighted the rhythm section, with their magical interplay that made this tune stand out from the rest. They ended the set with the trifecta of Are You Free, Bandit Boy (absolutely GREAT job here, Greg Loiacono, on the solo) and extended Can’t Sleep At All from Shootout. With the crowd dancing and swaying, the band rocking and jamming, it was a great set. I was a bit surprised when they left the stage after Can’t Sleep. It was too early to quit now. Barely eighty minutes long, I sure as hell wanted more. I left my comfy perch on the stairs and made my way to the front of the stage. I wanted more and I wanted it close and loud. I didn’t think I was asking too much.
More came in the form of two encores. The crowd had thinned out a bit by the time the Hips hopped back on stage. Pet Foot, the “B” side of the Showing It All To Bad Marie 7-inch single was next. This rarity had the true fans in the crowd in a frenzy. It’s soulful, charging drive segued easily into Poison Oak, one of my own favorites. They stretched this one out over the ten minute mark and had me grinning like the cat that ate the canary for the rest of the night.
The rest of the night consisted of one more encore: Rich Little Girl from Green Hills Of Earth. On this one, each band member did what they could to cohesively stretch this song till the Doug Fir management turned on the lights, but alas, it ended too soon. Not that the Hips didn’t give it their collective all. It was a wonderful finish to a solid show.
Rock On through The Fog.