Warming up

Time to check in with team Mother Hips, who are just getting their 2002 season under way

Mother Hips, clockwise from bottom: Greg Loiacono, John Hofer, Tim Bluhm. Isaac Parsons.

Mother Hips, clockwise from bottom: Greg Loiacono, John Hofer, Tim Bluhm. Isaac Parsons.

Live! 9 p.m. Saturday, January 26, at the Boardwalk, 9426 Greenback Lane, Orangevale, all-ages show, $10.

Greg Loiacono is driving around San Francisco. The guitarist-singer from the Mother Hips, the onetime Chico-based rock band that has evolved into one of the more consistently interesting exponents of the genre, has just returned from a run to the airport, and it’s easier for him to talk on his cell phone and drive if he doesn’t feel rushed to get someone there in time to make a flight.

Loiacono and his bandmates, singer-guitarist Tim Bluhm, bassist Isaac Parsons and drummer John Hofer, have spent most of the past month off—Loiacono and Hofer in their East Bay homes, Parsons here in Sacramento and the peripatetic Bluhm somewhere on the road in his van, which has been converted into a go-anywhere living space. After playing what’s become a traditional December run at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, the band took the holidays and most of January off, then returned to gear up for another 200-plus days on the road. Saturday night’s show at the Boardwalk in Orangevale will be one of the band’s first dates of the new year.

“We’ve gotten smarter about touring,” Loiacono says, “and about giving ourselves time to not be on the road. So that when we go back on the road, we remember that we enjoy it.”

A year ago around this time, the Mother Hips were getting ready to release Green Hills of Earth, which came out last February on the San Francisco indie label Future Farmer. That album caught a lot of people off guard with its Beatles-circa-Revolver approach to framing songs and its warm, organic flow. It sounded like something that came together over late-night sessions, where guitars are passed around and vocal harmonies spring from hit-or-miss experimentation and inspiration flows like quicksilver.

Green Hills garnered the band a decent amount of press, including a rave piece by San Francisco Chronicle critic James Sullivan that asked the question, “Why isn’t this band more famous?”

But massive fame still eludes this hard-working touring band, whose next album probably won’t be appearing for a while. “It’s hard for us,” Loiacono explains, “because we have to block out maybe a week of time, but then we have to get back on the road to make some more money, so we can live and continue to record the record.”

In lieu of another full-length disc, the Mother Hips were tapped to record the country classic “Sunday Morning Coming Down” for a various-artists Kris Kristofferson tribute, Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down, that writer Nick Tangborn assembled for his Jackpine Social Club label. The Hips are in good company; other artists featured include John Doe, Tom Verlaine, Kelly Hogan, the Mekons’ Jon Langford, Red House Painters’ Mark Kozelek, Stephen Bruton and Polara. That record will be out late next month.

Loiacono and Bluhm also have something forthcoming in February from a side project they’re calling Ballpoint Birds, which features the duo showing off its more introspective acoustic side. “It’s a pretty folk-oriented record,” Loiacono admits. “It’s all recorded; we’re just trying to finalize the artwork. It’s sort of like the ‘ballads,’ the more mellow acoustic songs, on any of our records. It’s very mild, and it really concentrates on the songs and the vocals. And we didn’t do a lot of production; a lot of the takes we did were live in the studio—Tim and I singing and playing together and getting that down on tape, and then maybe adding a little tambourine here, or maybe another backing vocal there.”

Some of that side should be in evidence on Saturday, along with a few new tunes the Mother Hips will be road-testing. It should make for a rather stellar experience.