Chuck Prophet, Almost Solo in Virginia

IMG_6602A whirlwind tour in Spain with Charlie Sexton playing the whole of The Rolling Stones’ “Some Girls” may not be the best practice for a solo tour, but it may have given Chuck Prophet a little extra slashing on his acoustic guitar at the start of a quite different tour.

It was a solo tour, though this time accompanied by his wife and member of his Mission Express band, Stephanie Finch. And it occurred at recent return visit to Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Va., which he called “my favorite club in a strip mall that firmly was a Christian worship place — and I’ve played all of them!”

It was Finch’s voice that was raspy and lower than usual due to being under the weather, bringing her closer to what she said was her fantasy: Sounding like Marianne Faithfull. Prophet was chipper and rocking and all around entertaining, as usual.

In a generous evening of nearly two dozen songs over two sets, he offered several of his usual crowd pleasers, but in a style that sometimes didn’t have the same impact. To his anthem “Wish Me Luck,” whose titular refrain is usually offered by a couple of heavy band chords, this one only had the tiny plink-plink of Finch’s keyboard. He tried to improvise, adding a humming horn on “I Call Your Name.”

“Temple Beautiful,” his 2012 ode to his home town of San Francisco, continues to be a mainstay of his shows, with four of its selections featured, including that harbinger of the new season “Willie Mays is Up at Bat.” The 2014 “Night Surfer” also got a good sampling, with four songs including his winning salute to a key piece of band equipment, “Ford Econoline.”

But there was surprisingly just one song from his great 2017 “Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins” when we could have heard both the rocking title song and the still-true elegy “Bad Year for Rock and Roll.” Instead he chose its yearning love song, “Open Up Your Heart” to open the second set, announcing it as a “new” song. Accordingly, he addressed those with videocameras on their phones: Hoist them up, they need the exposure!

There was time to play a lot of covers, from the Howard Tate R&B of “Shoot ‘Em All Down” to the bizarre point of view of “If I Was a Baby,” from Chicago troubadour Ezra Furman.

Prophet is a facile songwriter and works well in collaborations, such as one with Alejandro Escovedo that resulted in the latter’s 2008 album Real Animal, from which Prophet sang the soaring “Sister Lost Sou,” which was accompanied with a story nearly as long as the song.

Finch’s one solo turn was her “Let’s Stay Here,” accompanying herself by guitar instead of keyboard. It was a nice little couples trip for them, so there might have been more love songs than usual. They sweetly harmonized on what they said was the first song he heard her sing, Dylan’s “Abandoned Love.” They closed the first set with the garage rock staple, “Sorrow,” a McCoys B-side revived by David Bowie on his “Pin-Ups” album.

But it was a Prophet show in the sense that he closed with a couple of crowd pleasers, the participatory “You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp),” and for the single encore, his “Summertime Thing,” which he described in an earlier spate of requests as a “no-brainer.”

The setlist for Chuck Prophet Feb. 15 was:

  • “I Call Your Name”
  • “Storm Against the Sea”
  • “Sister Lost Soul”
  • “Shoot ‘em All Down”
  • “Wish Me Luck”
  • “Play That Song Again”
  • “The Left Hand and the Right Hand”
  • “If I Was a Baby”
  • “Willie Mays is Up at Bat”
  • “Doubter Out of Jesus (All Over You)”
  • “Abandoned Love”
  • “Sorrow”
  • “Open Up Your Heart”
  • “I Felt Like Jesus”
  • “Let’s Stay Here”
  • “Ford Econoline”
  • “Love is the Only Thing”
  • “Would You Love Me?”
  • “Just to See You Smile”
  • “Tell Me Anything (Turn to Gold)”
  • “You (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)”
  • “Summertime Thing”

 

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