in performance: chuck prophet and the mission express

chuck prophet. phot by scott compton.

chuck prophet. photo by scott compton.

“I can’t think of a more absurd song to sing,” remarked Chuck Prophet, launching into a solo acoustic version of Summertime Thing last night at Cosmic Charlie’s as the temps outside dipped into the 20s.

Absurd? Not a bit. But it was atypical. Stripping the closest thing the veteran San Francisco rocker has had to a radio hit into a folk-pop sing-a-long was the only real breather offered in what was otherwise a galvanizing, two hour rock ‘n’ roll show.

The rest of the performance relied on a repertoire that ran from Prophet’s days with the punkish Green on Red (its 1989 cover of the Waylon Jennings hit We Had It All, sung as a duet with wife/keyboardist Stephanie Finch) to tunes from eight of his nine solo albums (the debut Brother Aldo was the only exclusion) to healthy pickings from the recent Let Freedom Ring (highlighted by a riotous reading of Hot Talk that ripped the lid off the studio version). A pair of choice cover tunes (a World Party-like rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s For You and a surf-savvy take on Alex Chilton’s Bangkok) were offered as encores.

But mostly, a natural mix of spontaneity, soul and humor drove this performance that is inherent in all great rock shows. Such a blend provided a sunny cast to heavier songs, like the contemporary hard times saga You and Me Baby (Holding On), and an even greater celebratory vibe to the vintage Prophet party piece Diamond Jim.

The point of reckoning in this loose, infectious rock ‘n’ roll circus turned out to be 2004’s You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp). Working off a flavorful pop bounce that couldn’t help but get lodged in one’s head, Prophet and co-guitarist James DePrato offered up lanky solos that began with Neil Young-like urgency before splintering beautifully into shards of bluesy psychedelic fun.

It was a fitting coda for a hard hitting performance packed with the kind of rock ‘n’ roll heart that only the best pop craftsman and stage performers can muster. Last night, Prophet possessed such heart in spades.



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