Steely-eyed Greg Loiacono is known as the axeman for Bay Area legends the Mother Hips, but the silver-fleck-haired virtuoso has a new passion project that’s gaining momentum. Loiacono’s latest solo work is called Songs from a Golden Dream, a collection of chestnuts and gems, written over the last 10 years that either never made the Mother Hips rotation or were designed specifically for the recently debuted album. When he brings it live to the Crepe Place on Friday, Jan. 27, he will be accompanied by members of the band San Geronimo (who have held residency at Terrapin Crossroads, Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s musical sanctuary in Marin, for two and a half years).
From his wife’s clothing shop in Mill Valley, where he is busy schlepping bags of sand to guard the doorways against flooding, Loiacono’s wit and maturity shine through. “I’m trying to look as macho as possible remembering I’m 40 years old and trying not to hurt my back,” he says.
Like a rare herd of American buffalo lumbering across the plains, California quartet the Mother Hips—often literally playing in the wilderness—express their music through the fabric of dreams and epic rock ’n’ roll excitement. Through the better part of three decades, co-founders Loiacono and Tim Bluhm have contributed to America’s song chest. Onstage with the Mother Hips, Loiacono and band plow through a cavalcade of complex tunes, with little banter in between. But working on a solo project allows Loiacono to get his Garrison Keillor on and maybe even tell some stories. “I’ve learned to go to shows and appreciate the talking. Sometimes the talking is the best part. But, I’m not saying that I’m telling stories, but I can do what I want. If I feel like playing a song, we play it,” he says. Being the singular bandleader offers a different kind of musical freedom onstage. “My artistic expression is more available and on display,” promises Loiacono.
With this new excursion, Loiacono does not have to edit his commands to other band members about what he wants them to be playing. Is he a tough bandleader? Having two solo projects under his belt, the EP Purgatory (2002) and Listen to My Shapes with a handpicked group called Sensations (2006), Loiacono has learned some lessons about band management. “When I first put Sensations together,” says Loiacono, “I auditioned some guys, and a friend mentioned I should try Todd Roper [of Cake], and that I would like him. I did a rehearsal with Todd Roper and I think Jeff Palmer [of Sister Double Happiness] was the bass player. I was nervous because Todd was from Cake and he was a pro. He was another pro, who was more pro than me. So I tried to be pro. And I kept asking him which version did he listen to and … I didn’t feel like I was a dick, but apparently, he told me a couple of years later that I was kind of a real dick. I couldn’t believe it. So, I don’t feel like I’m too strict or a dick, but Todd Roper did 12 years ago.”
The learning curve has paid off, as his latest work shows all the signs of a musician who can hunt, stalk and capture the sometimes haunting songs that live in his head. The last track on Loiacono’s LP is “The Red Thread Part 3 (The Day’s Long Wind),” an amazing little tune that weaves itself around your mind after just a few listens. Online, you can find it combined with the animation of Josh Clark (guitarist in another Bay Area band, Tea Leaf Green), and what emerges is a journey through the waking and dream worlds.
On record, Songs from a Golden Dream is beautifully mellow, but for the live version of the album, expect a raucous good time. Loiacano looks forward to touring solo between Hip shows. “I’m watching the Hips schedule so I can piece it together and continue to tour and support the album,” he says.
Greg Loiacono will perform at the Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Avenue, Santa Cruz, at 9 p.m. on Friday Jan. 27; $15.