Report: Keymonium Live in Belmont, Calif.

 

Erstwhile members of
legendary ‘70s combo the Hot Knives return, the proverbial 96th musical element, to shake up Cali venue Chris’ New Harbor
on September 5.

 

By
Jud Cost

 

Walk
into Chris’ New Harbor Bar in Belmont, Calif., about 40 yards off the exhaust-choked 101 freeway
that connects San Francisco to San Jose, and you instantly feel you’ve been
here before. There must be a million scruffy little taverns like this, dotting
the American landscape, with a dozen old-timers at the bar nursing drinks on a
Sunday afernoon and watching the ball game on one of three tiny TVs crowded in
between neon Budweiser signs that decorate the walls.

 

A
five-piece band named Keymonium – two guitars, electric keyboard, bass and
drums – is tuning up on the floor, no stage here, about 15 feet from the bar in
front of well-traveled amps they did not purchase at garage sales. And this is
where it gets interesting. The short, rail-thin keyboard player is Michael
Houpt, and the lanky, extroverted bassist, the obvious loose cannon of the
group, is Ed Wilson, working the house, talking to everybody in a vintage
automobile-enthusiasts club while Houpt is gesturing at him to come back to get
the show on the road.

 

Both
Houpt and Wilson were founding members of Hot Knives, a blistering yet
heartfelt San Francisco
folk-rock band that released just two singles during a relatively short band
lifespan that began in 1972. The original combo also boasted a pair of former
Flamin’ Groovies, guitarist Tim Lynch and drummer Danny Mihm, as well as their
ace in the hole, co-lead vocalist Debbie Houpt, Mike’s younger sister.

 

As
Pennsylvania school
kids, the Houpts were entranced by the folk-pop vocals of Peter, Paul &
Mary and, once they’d moved west, would record “Hey Grandma” by San
Fran ballroom legends Moby Grape as their debut Hot Knives single. The band’s
unreleased material, plenty of scorching originals and fine versions of
“Silver Threads And Golden Needles” and “Lies,” a
Knickerbockers cover, is done with a vocal sound that effortlessly blended
early Jefferson Airplane with mid-period Fleetwood Mac.

 

Caught
in between eras, the Hot Knives were a little too late for the ’60s hippie trip
and a little too hippie for the punk-rock firestorm of the mid-’70s. In the
aftermath of tracking down Hot Knives, to pen liner notes for their unreleased,
career-spanning album (due out soon on an Australian label) I’m here to see the
two founding members play live almost 40 years later, sometimes a risky
proposition.

 

No
worries today though with Houpt and Wilson running the show. These old pros are
aided by the acoustic guitar of Karl Malinowski, the John Cipollina-like
electric guitar leads of Paul Leto and the no-nonsense drums of a girl who goes
by the name of Deona. Houpt sings most of the leads, while Malinowski (“It
Ain’t So Bad”) and Wilson (“Lonely Town”)
step forward on their own intense folk-rock originals that sound something like
the earnest jangle of Terry Dolan, onetime frontman for Terry & The
Pirates.

 

“We’re
Keymonium, named for the 96th element,” announces Houpt-perhaps mistaking
items on the atomic chart for the tears shed by Question Mark & the
Mysterians. They kick things off with a Bobby Troup chestnut, “Route
66,” introduced as music from a TV show about “two guys who used to
go tooling around in a sharp Corvette.” Houpt’s fabrication, of course, is
aimed at piquing the interest of the antique-auto crowd. Music from the Martin
Milner/George Maharis TV series was the creation of Frank Sinatra maestro
Nelson Riddle. One thing Houpt definitely got right, something Mick Jagger
muffed on the Stones’ 1964 version, the string of towns as you “motor
west” – Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino. “Lovin’ You,” the
Byrds-like A-side of Hot Knives’ second single, sounds terrific, even without
Debbie’s lush harmonies. Keymonium winds up a boiling 45-minute set with the
best live version of “All Along The Watchtower” I’ve ever heard, and
I’ve seen Dylan, himself, do it several times.

 

There’s
an added bonus waiting for you after they’ve finished. When you point the
Zipcar towards home, it’s only 40 yards to the freeway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply