Firing it up with Chuck Prophet at The Garage, Islington, London
Chuck Prophet and The Mission Express on February 21, 2017
'Bad Year For Rock And Roll’ was Chuck Prophet’s tribute to the many musicians who died last year. This show was a perfect demonstration of why rock and roll needs people like Prophet. Leading his tight and talented band for over two hours Prophet mixed high energy rock and roll with songs that both provoked deep thoughts and amused.
Amid the power Prophet showed humour, including a keen understanding of British customs (stiff upper lip and cricket), all done with immense charm and his slightly squinty smile. He came across as a nice guy and is a highly accomplished performer who formed a close tie with his audience. He may have been around for a bit but he made clear his appreciation of people coming out on a damp Tuesday night. Chuck, it was no hardship, your show just confirms why we love music. If you'd had a bad day at the office, regardless of which day of the week, a Chuck Prophet show will restore your faith in all that really matters.
The music was tremendous but what struck me most was the way Prophet connected with his audience. The venue was ideal, smallish and almost full with an appreciative audience who bonded immediately with Prophet. Such a two way mutual respect was a feature throughout; it was like turning up to see a mate’s band who was doing well but they hadn't forgotten their old friends.
In a way Prophet teases his audience. Power chords build up to some ferocious exchanges between him and guitarist James DePrato. These then came to a sharp halt, giving way to quite humorous, almost delicate, stories wryly delivered with a smile and twinkle in the eye. All part of the service.
Prophet combined good coverage of his latest (13th solo) release and some old faves. Highlights of the new record were title track and opener, ‘Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins' and 'Alex Nieto', about a pacifist who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both examples of hard rocking Chuck, a softer tone for a potentially delicate subject, 'Jesus Was a Social Drinker' was the best example of his keen sense of humour.
From the back catalogue, rockers were 'Ford Econoline' and 'You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)', the latter introduced as not one for those with a weak heart. He was right. 'Summertime Things' combined a measured acoustic opening before a switch back to electric lifted the rafters once again. With such an ability to express so wide a range of emotions Prophet writes his own material, but a good writer never forgets others. There were two standout covers; another Chuck's 'Ramona Say Yes' and Leonard Cohen's 'Iodine'.
You could say the show got too frantic at times but Prophet never lost control. Even when switching between mics he knew what he was doing and brought the pace out of the red zone just in time. His band, The Mission Express, were with him every turn of the way, each having an opportunity to shine individually as well as contribute to the tight sound they made together. They are Stephanie Finch (Mrs Prophet, on keys), Kevin White (bass), Vicente Rodriguez (drums) and James DePrato whose guitar playing both acted as a foil for Prophet as well as shining in his own right.
Chuck finished with his strong American credentials, 'Willie Mays Is Up At Bat' following 'Wish Me Luck' that would have floored a lesser artist. An encore of 'Let Her Dance' and 'You And Me Baby (Holding On) wrapped up a most uplifting evening of a heart worn rocking on the sleeve.
On the way out I overheard a couple of people comparing him to Tom Petty, both in looks and style. That had occurred to me but this is truly an artist with his own stamp of originality. If you can't see him live, get the new album.