Hometown pride is a necessary thing in music sometimes. The phenomenon can be found across a variety of genres, and blues rock is no stranger. Even those not from the places they refer will typically write of the streets of Austin, the pawn shops of Memphis, or any number of dives across the Mid- and Southwest. Chuck Prophet is elated to call San Francisco his home, so much so that nearly the entirety of his newest album Temple Beautiful is a Cupid’s arrow shot directly into the heart of the Bay Area.
Prophet has been a boomerang of a musical force for over 25 years, his craft taking him across the world and back, and into the studio with musicians as varied as Warren Zevon and Cake. His roots have always been firmly planted in the world of blues, but his songwriting effortlessly jumps from a salute to the early days of lip-curling punk, a subtle nod to ’70s arena rockers, a nudge in the direction of ’60s pop, and a hat-tip to power-chord ambassadors The Kinks. Throw on any of his albums and you’ll be greeted with a concoction of decade-spanning sounds blended together in hour-long assortments.
Local fledgling bluegrass sextet The Grisly Hand kicked off the night shortly before 9:00, and in a brief pause after their opening song, audience members could be heard frantically trying to remove their jaws from the floor. The band unquestionably gave Prophet a run for his money with an animated half-hour set that bounded back and forth among the band’s currently humble discography. Accompanying Lauren Krum’s extraordinarily immense voice was guitarist Jimmy Fitzner, whose vocal style both contrasted with Krum’s and provided a proper stylistic companion, and his banter between songs gave enough levity to keep the crowd attentive.
Bassist Johnny Nichols, guitarist Ben Summers, and fiddler Kian Byrne all contributed vocals throughout the set in varying amounts, and Matt Richey backed up the group on drums. In a blur of limbs and swinging guitar necks, the band reached some moments of unequivocal unity during the set, with all players on stage perfectly in sync in unintentional choreography. It was genuinely fascinating to the only two senses that mattered at the time.
By the time Chuck Prophet was joined on stage by his band The Mission Express at 9:45, there was already a vacuum-sealed crowd packed tightly in front, eagerly awaiting the 100-minute set. With only a clear footpath path leading to each of the bars, anyone expecting to stand in front of the stage was out of luck. Greeted by drunken cheers and the kind of heckling you would expect to hear only at a place like Davey’s, Prophet and company quickly jumped into an opening set filled with numbers from the last two decades.
“Storm Across the Sea” got things moving with one of many slide guitar songs that were played that evening, underscoring guitarist James DePrato’s ability to keep up with Prophet’s frequent veering off in a story or guitar solo. The set covered much of the newest release, with “Castro Halloween,” “The Left Hand and the Right Hand,” “Willy Mays is Up at Bat,” “White Night, Big City” and the title track among those. Prophet’s dedication of “White Night” to late gay rights activist Harvey Milk was met with a room so quiet a pin could be heard landing on the concrete floor.
Keyboardist (and spouse to the leading man) Stephanie Finch provided two of the highlights of the set with her vocal contribution to Temple‘s “Little Girl, Little Boy” and a spiced-up version of “Tina Goodbye,” the opening track to Finch’s 2010 debut Cry Tomorrow. Additional highlights were the covers of Alex Chilton’s “Bangkok,” and an irony-free version of Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen.” The encore of “Always a Friend” (co-written by Alejandro Escovedo) was followed by and the quirky “You Did,” the only song in history that poses the question of who did, exactly, put the boom in the boom-boom-shaka-laka?
This is the second time I have seen Prophet, and both times it has been at a reasonably filled Davey’s Uptown. After seeing a knock-out set twice in a row, I must pose a question I heard others in the venue asking that night– why the hell isn’t this guy more popular?
by Greg Stitt
Photos by Matt Cook