in performance: chuck prophet and the mission express

Chuck Prophet. Photo by Karen Doolittle.

“You’ve got your problems, I’ve got my problems,” remarked Chuck Prophet last night in the midst of a rock ‘n’ roll excursion full of joyous involvement at Willie’s Locally Known. “But I’ve got the microphone.”

That was merely a cordial reminder that the San Francisco song stylist was still the ringmaster of his own concert circus. But it was also a measurement of Prophet’s own investment in the art of performance, which last night was considerable. Armed with a broad love of pop sentiments, from the massive ‘60s hullabaloo pageantry that propelled the show-opening “Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins” to the West Coast garage rock glitz within a cover of the Flamin’ Groovies’ “Shake Some Action,” which ended the evening, Prophet inhabited fully the jubilant, immediate musical landscape he staked out with his long running Mission Express band.

At times, the mood became revivalistic, as during the mock self-pitying sermonizing that oddly brought a snippet of the 1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival hit “Lodi” together with the hapless 2014 Prophet original “Wish Me Luck.” In other instances, the show luxuriated in pop’s bottomless sense of fancy, as in “You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp),” which alternated between a chorus of deceptively dismissive playfulness (“Who put the ram in the rama-lama-ding dong?”) and lyrics of more unsettled introspection (“Wake me up if I should drift away; I don’t want to miss a thing”).

The Mission Express, bolstered by Prophet’s wife, Stephanie Finch, on keyboards and harmony vocals, more than matched the vigor the bandleader was detonating during songs like “Run Primo, Run,” “Rider or the Train” and “Killing Machine.” But what made the entire performance so vital and fun was just how tirelessly present Prophet was. This wasn’t a veteran artist playing favorites and running through the motions. This was a session of live rock ‘n’ roll lit up like fireworks.

Who else could have sung an ode to “the greatest centerfielder of all time” (“Willie Mays is Up at Bat”) and made it sound like the salvation cry of an eager rock ‘n’ roll generation? Then again, Prophet had the microphone. It was entirely his game.

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