Fans of The Mother Hips are a special bunch, thanks to the fact that the Bay Area favorites have long cultivated a close relationship with them. This is in part due to the absence of a major record label backing them but also because they have been playing their brand of psych-folk-rock with an unmatched earnestness and passion for more than 20 years. They have even organized a trilogy of California mini-festivals - Big Sur’s Hipnic with Brit Govea of Folk Yeah; Joshua Tree’s Desert Dust Up; and more recently, Hips High Camp in the Sierra Valley.
The Hips as they are known to fans have always encouraged fans to make music or share theirs in the way another San Francisco stalwart, The Grateful Dead had done decades earlier. So when The Hips announced a recent show at LA’s Troubadour for May 27 – their first back in the hallowed venue in over a decade – super fans were invited to join a unique VIP experience on the rock 'n’ roll tour bus.
Organized by BayArea transplantt, Molly Tuttle who knew them as a college band while they were all attending California State University in Chico – before they got signed to Rick Rubin’s label and toured with Johnny Cash and The Black Crowes, and were Tom Petty's label mates – the rock and roll tour bus was an idea she mooted because she understood the significance of the venue for the band.
Like any rock 'n' roll band that has lasted this long, The Hips have had their fair share of ups and downs - lineup changes, personal dramas and hiatus, but being unceremoniously dropped by Rubin's label early on - became a defining moment for the band. It informed how they proceeded to craft their music and careers with an intergrity that the freedom as well as limitations of being independent afforded them.
“The Hips’ manager, Joe Raan, contacted AXS about planning some sort of special 'meet & greet’ with the band before their show at the Troubadour," said Tuttle. "I was well-aware that two of the Hips' biggest musical influences are Buffalo Springfield and The Byrds, both Laurel Canyon bands. I wanted fans to understand the significance of the band playing on the holy ground where their influences had been a part of one of rock & roll’s most significant creative revolutions in the late '60s and early '70s. I felt it would be far more meaningful if fans understood the history of how the Troubadour, the Sunset Strip and Laurel Canyon all fit together.”
She added: “Since moving to LA from the Bay Area in 2009, I have been deeply immersed in the rock n' roll history of Laurel Canyon and the Sunset Strip. I have friends who joke about me being a ‘rock & roll history tour guide’, so, when I got the call from Joe, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.” To have someone from the Hips inner circle, take them on a bus trip essentially back in time to the high water-mark era where the Sunset Strip was the playground of The Byrds, Gram Parsons, The Doors – west coast rock legends that influenced The Mother Hips - and then back to her own idyll of a Laurel Canyon cottage nestled in Lookout Mountain a stone’s throne from Joni Mitchell and Frank Zappa’s old homes, was priceless.
The evening began with guests checking in near the Troubadour, introducing themselves, then setting away on the bus where beer, Sunset Strip trivia and fan conversations flowed freely. Dressed like a train conductor, Tuttle at times adopted the persona of a Valley Girl bringing to life the vivid stories she shared about The Mother Hips but also touchstone moments in rock n’ roll history that took place in iconic stops like The Rainbow Room, The Viper Room, and the famed Canyon County Store.
Once at Tuttle’s home, guests were invited to wander around and up to her quaint treehouse, before she put on a little show with Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter Steve Taylor, accompanied by Nathan Schlock . Tuttle recounted how back in the day – Laurel Canyon bands like Buffalo Springfield, Mitchell and The Eagles would have impromptu sessions in their Laurel Canyon backyard just like hers, before taking the short drive down to the strip to play at clubs like the Troubadour – exactly what they would be doing tonight. The Troubadour stage was also where in 1966, Neil Young and Stephen Stills would play their first gig as Buffalo Springfield. Young's influence cast a long shadow on Bluhm's songwriting.
After a handful of songs, Tuttle advised that folks got themselves ready to hop on the bus back to The Troubadour where their ticket gave them access to the VIP bar. The famed room that Jim Morrison, Glenn Frey and The Monkee’s Mickey Dolenz once called their local. Guests felt very special indeed when they were ushered into the empty Troubadour, but not as special as when members of The Hips walked up into the small private room to greet fans.
Said fan Mark Banducci: “My good friend Ned Clark (Super Fan Extraordinaire) told me about the bus tour. What an unbelievable opportunity! Ned went out of town when the tickets went on sale and asked me to follow up and secure 3 tickets. I, unfortunately, missed the post on The Mother Hips Facebook page and had to give the sad news to Ned and his wife Benedicte. I was really bummed and felt like I'd dropped the ball. A few days before, Molly Tuttle told Ned there were 2 seats available. The day of the bus tour another seat opened up and we were in."
He added: "It's difficult to express the sheer joy of meeting the other pre-party goers and spending time with Molly at her beautiful home in the historic laurel canyon neighborhood. The fans of the Hips I've had the pleasure of meeting are a magical tribe. But the best experience was being in the Troubadour and having a drink, and seeing Greg (Loiacono), Hoff (John Hofer), and Scott (Thunes, one time bassist of Frank Zappa) come walking into the upstairs bar. I love The Hips.”
The evening at the Troubadour began with opening act, US Elevators. Fronted by Johnny Irion from longtime husband-and-wife duo – Sarah Jane Guthrie and Johnny Irion - US Elevators have recently released a new album, produced by Bluhm. It was followed by The Hips doing an album cover of “Let It Bleed” by The Rolling Stones.
The Hips doing a whole album set of covers had not happen since their show 10 years earlier at The Great American Music Hall where they did a Beatles album cover. There was some speculation among fans that they might do the Beatles again, maybe Wilco, or indeed The Rolling Stones? The night was off to a good start with “Gimme Shelter,” “Love In Vain” right through to favorite “Let It Bleed” and rousing closer “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”
The band that took a break then returned with their own career-spanning set list of songs. Bluhm who has had a challenging time since a paragliding accident last September, performed seated on a stool with his left foot in cast. A few months after his accident, he also announced his separation from wife and fellow-collaborator, Nicki Bluhm but tonight he was all smiles and in good spirits. And the crowd hung on his everyone word.
The second set kicked off with “Smoke” and one of their most popular tracks “White Falcon Fuzz” of their 2009 album, Pacific Dust. It's Weezer-esque fuzzy, juxtaposed with beautiful fingerpicking, plus a lyrical playfulness and depth that Bluhm does so well. "Hell, hell white Falcon fuzz. It's because of you I'm standing here," is likely a homage to Young and the Gretsch Falcon guitar that he played during his term with Buffalo Springfield.
The Beatles-tinged "Singing Seems To Ease Me" and the raucous rock of "Rich Little Girl" followed. Bluhm and Loiacono's excellent guitar skills are second only to their velvety harmonies most memorable on their rendition of “Time-Sick Son of a Grizzly Bear”. But the whole band with Hofer, Thunes, Jason Crosby on keys/fiddle and Scheila Gonzalez on saxophone/back-up vocals were a joy to behold. Delivering with ease that sunny Californian take on Americana as well as the more rock and psychedelic imaginings with equal gusto.
They closed the night with the encore’s “Stoned Up The Road” and “Song For JB”. The latter the final word that The Hips were set to leave the stage, it has been a firm closer in many shows and was written for Wilco’s Jay Bennett who passed away in 2009. It begins with "It's bitter sweet, making music..." and goes on to catalogue the trials of being a journeyman musician where in the end you can only be comforted by the fact that "... you touched a lot of people who live their lives by the records that you make." This rings true as much for Bennett as The Hips and their adoring fans.
The Mother Hips Tour
Jul 22 Larimer Lounge Denver, CO Jul 23 Larimer Lounge Denver, CO
Aug 06 Petaluma Music Festival Petaluma, CA
Aug 09 The Showbox Hard Working Americans Seattle, WA
Aug 10 Revolution Hall Hard Working Americans Portland, OR
Aug 12 The Filllmore w Hard Working Americans San Francisco, CA
Aug 13 El Rey Theatre w Hard Working Americans Los Angeles, CA
Aug 28 Tacoma Cheney Stadium w Dawes Tacoma, WA
Sep 9 Bear Music Fest Pinecrest, CA
Sep 10 Bear Music Fest Pinecrest, CA
Sep 16 Joe's Pub New York, NY
Sep 17 Joe's Pub New York, NY