Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chuck Prophet @ Joe's Pub

Chuck Prophet will never make the cut. He's not going to make the top 100 list of songwriters. And I'd bet a mono copy of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bookends"...if I had one...that he wouldn't make the top 100 list of guitar players. And he should. He should be there among the Dylans and Lennons. He should be there among the Claptons and Becks. Chuck Prophet is that special. After seeing him perform last night, I'd like to put him in the Top 20 of both.

Prophet brought his Mission Express across the country from San Francisco to N.Y.C., aiming to put "New York City back on the map." (Oh yeah, his wry sense of humor? Top 20, as well.) Last night's performance made the usually stiff but pleasant Joe's Pub, arena-like. I blame his damn band. Holy $16 panini Batman, what a band!

And they are...

James DePrato (guitar)
Stephanie Finch (keyboard, vocals)
Kevin White: (bass guitar)
Kyle Caprista: (drums, vocals)

For 100 minutes, give or take a minute, Chuck Prophet delivered songs and stories, jangly chords and harmonies, funky grooves, dual guitar solos, heartbreak ballads and, like "something I saw on a live concert DVD once," plenty of audience participation. He played at least half of "Temple Beautiful." With the halfway mark of 2012 about to bite, that record is getting my vote for Best Of The Year. Songs like "Willie Mays Is Up At Bat" and "The Left Hand & The Right Hand" are mini-masterpieces, with the latter being dedicated to "brothers everywhere." Phil and Don (The Everlys), Phil & Dave (The Blasters), Ray & Dave (Do I need to?), and Liam and Noel (the Oasiseses), but it really is about so much more.

Chuck Prophet told a story about playing in the San Francisco airport to mostly disinterested travelers, except for one who recognized "Always A Friend," the song he co-wrote with Alejandro Escovedo which became a minor hit as a duet between Escovedo and Bruce Springsteen.  The man remarked, "Good choice of covers." He headed for his flight before Prophet could tell him he wrote the song. "He wouldn't have believed me, anyway."

"Would You Love Me" from 2007's "Soap & Water" was the most moving moment of the night. A song about unrequited love, Prophet's lyric demands your attention, not so much for its complexity, but for its subtle beauty. This knocked me out.


The band's encore included "Summertime Thing," a song you could say is Prophet's "hit," as well as two more "good choices," the Flamin' Groovies "Shake Some Action" and Bruce's "For You."

I've always been a fan of Prophet, but mostly from afar. "Temple Beautiful" is such a good record, it motivated me to see him live, and that gave me a real opportunity to listen with focus. I've been converted.


J. Loslo said...

Okay, I'll break down and buy "Temple Beautiful." I've been a Chuck Prophet fan for some time, but descriptions of the album I've read put such an emphasis on the "love letter to San Francisco" aspect of the album that I found it off-putting. Nothing personal, San Franciscans, but I just don't care about San Francisco. I take it this turns out not to be a distraction.

Anonymous said...

C'mon Sal! Don't give up. Let's get Chuck on those lists.
First saw him a dozen years ago supporting 'The Hurting Business' along with about 8 other people in a tiny club in Albany. One of the best shows ever. Still love that CD and 'No Other Love' the most (lots of "subtle beauty" on NOL).
He's touring constantly ... go see them everyone, and spread the word!

Sal Nunziato said...

It is not a distraction. It doesn't play like a concept album at all.

Neil deMause said...

I was there last night (early show), and your writeup absolutely nails it. This is the second time I've seen Chuck live, and he is everything that rock 'n' roll should be about: loud, funny, raunchy, self-reflective, life-affirming. Oh, and jam-packed with searing guitars It was worth every penny of the $18 I paid for my bean-and-red-pepper dip.

Rob said...

Hi Sal - I have to admit that Chuck Prophet is one of those performers who have passed me by over the years. Lately though I've been noticing his name being mentioned by people such as yourself whose opinions I respect. I think it might be time for me to get acquainted - so any tips for Chuck 101? Thank you.

Sal Nunziato said...

Hey Rob,

You could start with the new one, and work your back. "Soap & Water" is dynamite, as is "No Other Love," as is....see my point. Start anywhere.


I was at the early show, too. Also found out today, my friend who plays bass with the Paul Collins' Beat is opening for Chuck tonite in CT. Really wish I was there for that.

kevb said...

Hi Sal

Greetings from London, UK. I recently saw Chuck play at Dingwalls - an awesome show (fuelled by beer rather than $18 paninis or dips). Your review mirrors my thoughts about the gig. I'm now on a Chuck CD spending spree via Amazon (trying to mask the purchases from my wife who doesn't get it!).


Neil deMause said...

Let Freedom Ring! is my own favorite, but probably just because it was what he was touring when I first saw him. I haven't found a bad album of his yet.

Meanwhile, there's a stellar recording of the SF show from the current tour (with much of the same setlist and stage banter as last night) at

Unknown said...

Nice review (and cool blog)!

Been following Chuck forever and was thrilled to come across this review. He's quite simply one of my VERY favorite artists. I think his last two albums are among his very best EVER, but would say that he's never made a bad album. It's safe to say that everything from "Homemade Blood" on has been excellent.

I agree that all the fuss about this being a "San Francisco album" could be a tad distracting, but it's definitely not a concept album, and if you aren't intimately familiar with the City and it's history, it would barely even phase you. It's quite simply a damn fine rock n' roll record.

This review has me super excited, as I'm gonna be able to see Chuck four times in the next three weeks!
The band were on fire when I last saw them in late March and with all this touring under their belt, I can imagine it's only gonna get better!

Keep up the great work, Sal. Good stuff.

Sal Nunziato said...

Let me second Neil's suggestion. That SF show on is stellar.

A walk in the woods said...

I'd never heard of Chuck before you mentioned him previously here, Sal (I knew of Green On Red but not him individually), and you are right - this new album of his is right in the pocket. Love it.

Speaking of power poppers, another recommendation of yours I've loved was the Tommy Keene album from last year, "Behind The Parade." One of my fave recent albums, I play it a lot.

Big Jim Slade said...

I didn't know much about him a few years ago, but took a small chance (it was 2 miles away and $14) and caught him when I was living near Arlington, VA. I loved the show and everything you wrote sounds right on.

So here's a little about his wit - after the show he stayed around to sign stuff and a guy a couple people ahead of me said something about seeing him in, maybe, Austin. So he says, yeah, but Texas, man, they're a little too full of themselves in Texas. You know, they got TEXAS chili, TEXAS football. I grew up in California, and we had football, too. You know what we called it? FOOTBALL.

That's the part I remember, but he had it going.

wimverest said...

I recentle saw Chuck&the Mission Express in the Paradiso in Amsterdam and it was a great performance. This review could have been written for that show. Thanks.