“Bobby Fuller Died for You Sins!” he declares in the anthemic title track of his latest album, which kicked off his splendid show at the Hamilton Live in Washington, D.C., Tuesday. He’d return to Fuller, the forever young rocker with the forever mysterious death, in an encore of “Let Her Dance” that included quotes from “Day Tripper,” “Pretty Woman” and “Can’t Turn You Loose.”
But before then he would note, in one of the most immediately relevant songs of 2017, how it’s been a “Bad Year for Rock and Roll,” noting how “the Thin White Duke took a final bow” and didn’t even have space for all the other musical deaths besides Bowie.
But he did find some hidden gems in the repertoire of Leonard Cohen — “Iodine,” a Leonard Cohen folk-rock number to which he gave a little extra rock; and Chuck Berry’s “Ramona Say Yes” to note the recent significant passing of this year, trying his own version of the duckwalk in tribute.
Bad year or not, it’s a good night for rock ’n’ roll when Prophet and his crew is in town.
Happy to be in the comparatively posh, supper-club setting of the Hamilton instead of the small dark clubs “with sticky floors” where he usually plays, he’s put together a splendid live show that emphasizes the wise and tuneful songs from the new album along with sure fire favorites from the past, from the singalong of “Temple Beautiful” and call and response of “You Did” to the groove of “Summertime Thing.”
The lanky and laconic Prophet is an engaging showman and great guitarist, who trades licks with James DePrato in front of the solid rhythm section of drummer Vicente Rodriquez and bassist Kevin White. Out front with Prophet is his wife Stephanie Finch on keyboards, vocals and occasional cowbell.
Prophet has a laconic speaking voice that he adds to punctuate songs such as his “Jesus was a Social Drinker.” Ever the fan of rock, the rocking New York drone of “In the Mausoleum (For Alan Vega)” brings out the Suicide sound to honor yet another rock death from last year.
There’s a cheery, optimistic spirit about him that shines through songs of perseverance like “We Got Up and Played,” “Wish Me Luck” and the last song of the encore, “You and Me Baby (Holding On)” that complete the uplift.
Entering the stage to the theme from “Rockford Files,” Brian Heineman and his band presented a set of their own solid, midwestern songs about “Hard Times” and a broken down “1000 Dollar Car,” but also the wisdom to embrace the simplicity of “Something Good” and the dance of “Welfare Music” and the determination of “Shape of a Wheel.”
The band is still touring off their fine 2015 album “South Broadway Athletic Club” and an approach that’s so honed it’s become zen-like in songs like “Dog.” But it rocks pretty well.
Henneman, recovering from a week’s cold, didn’t sound half bad on vocals, explaining how he’d devised a “mullet set: business up front, and party in the back,” saving both favorites like “Radar Gun” alongside the instrumental they hadn’t been playing for a decade and a half, “Bud Nanney Theme.”
Together they made a case of optimism in rootsy rock, whatever casualties we may all have to suffer along the way.
CHUCK PROPHET & MISSION EXPRESS SETLIST
- “Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins”
- “Ramona Say Yes”
- “Lonely Desolation”
- “Bad Year for Rock and Roll”
- “Temple Beautiful”
- “Who Shot John”
- “Barely Exist”
- “Jesus Was a Social Drinker”
- “You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)”
- “In the Mausoleum (For Alan Vega)
- “Ford Econoline”
- “We Got Up and Played”
- “Summertime Thing”
- “Countrified Inner City Technological Man”
- “Wish Me Luck”
- Willie Mays is Up to Bat”
- “Let Her Dance”
- “You and Me Baby (Holding On)”
BOTTLE ROCKETS SETLIST
- “Monday (Every Time I Turn Around)”
- “I Wanna Come Home”
- “I Don’t Want to Know “
- “Hard Times”
- “Give Me Room”
- “Trailer Mama”
- “Ship It On the Frisco”
- “Something Good”
- “Welfare Music”
- “Bud Nanney Theme”
- “Slo Toms”
- “Big Fat Nothin’”
- “Radar Gun”
- “1000 Dollar Car”
- “Shape of a Wheel”