in performance: chuck prophet and the mission express

chuck prophet.

Among the topics up for discussion at last night’s splendidly soulful performance by Chuck Prophet at Cosmic Charlie’s dealt with what could best be described as emotive day planning (well, technically, evening planning). It posed this question: Of all the weeknights, which is the saddest? Prophet quickly whittled the possibilities down to Tuesday or Wednesday.

“A lot of people who come out on Tuesday still think it’s the weekend,” he remarked. But those who brave the night life on Wednesday, he added, already have the following weekend on their minds. Such reasoning seemed conveniently diplomatic. But the crowd on hand seemed to show little concern that this very potent rock show fell on a school night. From the moment the 1 ¾ hour performance commenced with the bountiful riffs and dual guitar colors of Storm Across the Sea, the audience bought in fully to a show Prophet later summarized as a “poetry reading.”

Really, poetry? Granted, Prophet writes literate, emotive songs rich on narrative detail and vivid characterizations. That was abundantly clear within the material he offered from his new Temple Beautiful. The concert featured 8 of the album’s 12 tunes, including a sibling saga of murder and forgiveness, The Left Hand and the Right Hand, and an engaging San Francisco scrapbook remembrance, Willie Mays is Up At Bat.

But there were also instances where Prophet’s keen rock ‘n’ roll instincts took over the Temple tunes, as in the punkish howl that served as a coda to White Night, Big City, the brilliant power pop charge that ignited Castro Halloween and the Byrds-like Americana drive of I Felt Like Jesus.

And on Temple Beautiful’s ultra-fun title tune, lyrics and mood became one. After all, how much more of narrative arc does a song need when it chorus boasts such affirmations as “shooby dooby bop bop.”

The rest of the performance boasted a few surprises, specifically Look Both Ways (from Prophet’s 1990 solo debut album Brother Aldo) and a pair of very playful encore covers – a hullabaloo version of the Flamin’ Groovies’ Shake Some Action and the surf classic Pipeline.

But the highlight was the set-closing You Did. The pop parable let Prophet stretch out on guitar, creating long shards of vintage Neil Young-style grit after the lyrics dispensed more of his expert rock and soul semantics: “Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?”

Now that’s poetry.

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