A Sublime Dose of San Francisco Rock and Roll: Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express
I’ve always kind of envied the “newbies” that find themselves at a Chuck Prophet gig. I remember the first time I turned up at one, I used to think that a Stratocaster was the coolest guitar to play, but then I saw Chuck playing his Squire Japanese Telecaster and that was the end of that. The way he blended the styles of guitarists such as Richard Thompson and Keith Richards to create his own unique style was cool as hell to me. Chuck’s music and voice have matured like a fine wine over the years, and with his latest record, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins (Yep Roc Records), Prophet and his longterm co-songwriter Kurt Lipschutz have arguably created their greatest work since Chuck’s ode to San Francisco from 2012, Temple Beautiful, and his indie gothic masterpiece from 1997, Homemade Blood. It seems to me that things have never been in better shape for this one time “Nightsurfer” from Whittier, California, than they are now.
It was nice to head out to a Chuck Prophet gig without the need of a coat or jumper, great to have him over here at this time of year for a change and it was a warm summer’s night for UK standards, perfect! Ironically, Prophet dealt with a heckler down at the front of the stage by saying, “It takes a brave man to wear short pants to a Chuck Prophet gig.” That made me smile seeing as I was wearing shorts myself.
The gig itself was masterful, it began with the title track from his recent record Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins, which gives me the same kind of feeling as the title track to his 2012 record Temple Beautiful, which they played a few songs later. Such great examples of rock-and-roll songwriting at its very best. There was also a new addition to recent UK setlists with the inclusion of a great tune called “Fast Kid,” which turned up as the flip side to the single “Tell Me Anything (Turn to Gold)” taken from his 2014 release, Night Surfer. Since the release of Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins there are four other songs from the record that have stuck out like a “gloriously sore thumb” and have become firm favorites for many of his fans on the “live” stage: “Jesus Was a Social Drinker” “In the Mausoleum” “We Got Up and Played” and “Bad year for Rock & Roll” were duly welcomed with huge satisfaction all round.
The customary Prophet guitar showcase of “You Did” (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp) featured once again and his lengthy lead guitar outro would highly impress any wannabe guitarist or professional guitarist alike. The word “Bam!” comes to mind every time. Tonight, we’re also given a really nice version of “Rider or the Train” from the new record, a song that oozes the songwriting style of Warren Zevon throughout. We also get transported back to the Temple Beautiful record with great renditions of two other awesome tracks, “The Left Hand & the Right Hand” and “Willie Mays Is Up At Bat,” which the jam-packed venue had great pleasure in singing the chorus too. I’m not sure how many people knew who the “Mitchell Brothers” of San Francisco were as Prophet told the story behind “The Left Hand and The Right Hand,” but it mattered none. It could have been about the “Mitchell” brothers of Eastenders fame and people would have still shown total appreciation. Besides, the song is about “Brothers” after all. It was a vibe that was evident throughout the entire gig. One big happy family.
One of the many other highlights was Prophet’s “put the world to rights” sermon he gave midway through another great song, “Wish Me Luck,” another track from Night Surfer. It’s become a regular occurence as he slings his guitar to one side, grabs the mic and walks back and forth along the stage talking more sense in 5 minutes than Donald Trump could do in a whole term in office. One really cool moment during his sermon was when Prophet called a large older guy forward to the stage who’d been singing the lyrics to every song all night long with passionate intensity. Prophet exclaimed “I love yer man!” and embraced him, much to the guy’s delight. It’s an impression that continually resonates around a Chuck Prophet gig these days, he seems to really care about his fans. I’m not sure back in the wild and carefree days of his previous band, Green on Red, they actually gave a shit about the audience. After all, they were young, wild, had attitude, and no doubt they thought they were great, as I did when I first came across their music. It can backfire for some bands though. The Stones Roses come to mind: Their debut album made some serious noise and took the UK by storm in 1989, but then they disappeared to Wales for 4 or 5 years to make a follow up and seemed to expect their fans to be waiting for them when they finally resurfaced with a new record. Okay, some did but many lost interest waiting around and their blues/rock offering of The Second Coming was the begining of their quick demise. Chuck Prophet, on the other hand, is no fool. He continually releases new music and he’s always flying around the globe taking his promotional machine to city after city. He seems to be getting a lot more new fans come aboard for his musical ride as a consequence. For his talent and the effort he puts in, he deserves every last one of them.
Finally, to wrap up yet another first class night of Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express, Birmingham’s own Dave Kusworth (Jacobites/Dogs ‘Amour) joined Prophet on stage to close proceedings. A songwriter and performer in his own right.
Hopefully Birmingham will feature regular in future Chuck Prophet tour schedules. The reception Prophet and the Mission Express got here at The Hare & Hounds venue in Kings Heath was awesome yet again, a great night of top quality live music and showmanship. Too cool for school in every department.