Put the left hip in

Mother Hips co-founder rocks debut solo tour

Greg Loiacono debuts music from his new album at Lost on Main.

Greg Loiacono debuts music from his new album at Lost on Main.

Photo by Carey Wilson

Greg Loiacono, Friday, Oct. 7, Lost on Main.

Twenty-six years into a shared career that began with picking guitars and singing songs in off-campus housing in Chico with his friend Tim Bluhm—a collaboration that eventually evolved into the Mother Hips—Greg Loiacono has released his first solo album, Songs from a Golden Dream. The long trip to fruition of his personal muse proved well worth the wait when Loiacono brought his stellar band to Lost on Main on Friday (Oct. 7) to kick off his tour in Chico and celebrate the completed work in a live setting.

Show openers Shibumi and Sam Chase set a pleasantly mellow tone at the beginning of the evening’s festivities, but Loiacono and his band escalated that chill vibe into a memorable night of rock ’n’ roll communion.

And what a band it is. Drummer Todd Roper (Cake, Chuck Prophet) and bassist Scott Thunes (Frank Zappa, The Mother Hips, Fear) along with pedal steel player Joel Martin provided Loiacono with enough musical muscle and finesse to fill his melodic, poetic/literary songs with energy and joy. As he admonishes in the album’s opening song, “The Red Thread Part I (The Gloaming),” the best way to experience the performance is to “Let the music shatter the illusion of control.”

With bassist Thunes smiling along, the band moved songs from well-crafted instrumental and vocal arrangements into powerfully rocking improvisational sections that allowed each musician to fully explore the variations of chord progressions and dynamic volume control. The audience was part of a living, breathing happening rather than attending a rote performance of pre-scripted set pieces.

For example, “Tell It to the Trees” began with a simple melody reminiscent of traditional country or folk music, with Thunes’ gently loping bass and Loiacono’s twanging guitar riding the shuffle of Roper’s drums, as Loiacono’s deep voice recounted the tale of a party after which the protagonist “never was the same.” But as the first verse gave way to an instrumental interlude, the intensity of the music built exponentially, with the singer’s lead guitar and Martin’s pedal steel locking into an intertwining exploration of the melody, melding music and narrative until the song’s closing refrain, “Go tell it to the mountains, go tell it to the trees, on your hands and knees.”

Funky rocker “Away from the Stones” casts the singer in the roll of Ulysses, who exhorts his companions to “Lash me to the mast, boys, I need to hear that song.” It’s a brave and audacious songwriter who sets himself on the daunting task of summoning music of such mythic quality that it will “sing our minds away.” But judging from the swaying bodies and rapturous expressions on the faces of my dance-floor compatriots, that goal was achieved for quite a few of us as we rode the oceanic pulse of the rhythm section and jagged lightning of the lead instruments all the way to the song’s crescendo.

In contrast to sometimes dark intensity of his lyrics and music, Loiacono comes off as a craftsman who very much enjoys his work. That trait fuels the enjoyment of not just his audience, but also the musicians who share in presenting the fruits of that deeply personal yet ultimately collaborative effort.