Out of joint with the Hips
Entering dreamtime with Chico’s own Mother Hips at the Senator
Arriving about 15 minutes late, I found the doors of the Senator Theater still locked and about a half-dozen or so people standing on the sidewalk under the marquee that announced “the Mother Hips” in old movie house letters. The circumstances didn’t strike me as particularly auspicious; somehow I’d convinced myself that there would be a crowd lined up halfway around the block, gleefully shivering in anticipation of this increasingly rare appearance by one of Chico’s homegrown, if long-departed, legends.
And the fact that another local favorite band, the iMPs, had the opening slot on the bill had also jacked up my expectations for some lively pre-show enthusiasm. Naïveté goeth before a fall, I suppose.
Anyway, given the circumstances and the opportunity, I shifted locales a block down the street to Duffy’s Tavern to see if that might be where the crowd was building. Fifteen minutes of eavesdropping and Coke sipping later, I was back up the street and inside the Senator, exchanging greetings with a Lincolnesque DNA and still wondering where everybody was hiding. But at least a few rock-'n'-roll enthusiasts had begun to congregate at the front of the huge theater, and a bit before 10 o’clock DNA ambled onto the stage and introduced the iMPs.
They kicked off with an upbeat little tune titled “Disease,” and the sound coming off the stage into the vastness of the mostly empty theater made it sound like they were delivering the music from the bottom of a coffee can the size of a basketball court. Testifying to the fact that positive motivation overcomes its circumstances, a small group of groovers turned the open area in front of the stage into a dance floor. It was interesting to watch the noodle-dancers channel the energy of the iMPs’ music, which at its best is rock refined to its most irreducible common denominator and played with utter conviction leavened with a touch of good humor. When they ended their set and thanked “Our dancers and Danny Aiello,” they got a hearty round of applause.
And then it was time for the Hips to play, and that’s where the show, and subsequently this review, jumped the tracks. Instead of the band coming out to enliven the well-warmed-up and ever-burgeoning crowd, we were treated to the entirety of the new Hank Williams III album over the house PA. It’s not a bad album as country weepers go, but by the time it was over the boisterous crowd that had gathered in front of the stage to give the Hips a hero’s welcome had listlessly drifted into the vastness of the theater.
Eventually a roadie came on stage, checked all the mics and guitars and made sure there was a refreshing beverage at each player’s station, and what was left of the crowd got back on its feet and hooted and hollered enough to coax the band into starting the show.
They didn’t seem overjoyed to be doing it, though. As they sauntered onto the stage like a line of factory workers getting ready to punch the time clock and took up their positions and instruments, I was particularly struck by the fact that the bass player was wearing a backpack—and kept wearing it throughout the entire set—a weird thing to be the most memorable aspect of a show by a highly regarded band.
After Tim Bluhm’s nonchalant "How ya doin'?" greeting to the crowd, the band delivered a set of very competently played professional rock music. I particularly liked the long, moody "Sara Bellum" and also admired the interplay of Chuck Berry licks woven into one of the other songs. But my initial enthusiasm for the show had evaporated during the hour-long waits before and between sets, and while others danced I settled into my cozy seat and drifted into dreamland till the applause at the end of the show woke me up.