The Errigle Inn - 26th July 2017
Glorious late afternoon sunshine suggested a relaxing road trip from Dublin to The Errigle Inn on the Ormeau Road in Belfast for the return to Ireland of Chuck Prophet and his regular touring band The Mission Express. Or so I thought. On approaching Belfast, a colossal rain storm seemed to appear from nowhere with deafening thunder and spectacular fork lightning as if to announce that Prophet had hit town. As it happened it was a fitting precursor to an enthralling and energetic show that exploded into action shortly after 9pm and continued relentlessly for the best part of two hours.
Prophet is gifted with the ability to write killer songs that tackle difficult issues and struggles whether social, political or personal yet always tinged with humour and an ‘let’s get on with it folks and try and treasure the good moments’ attitude. His current album Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins, is his most political recording since Let Freedom Ring in 2009 and possibly his most sardonic, moving and uplifting. The album tackles political issues, laments the many lost musical icons in 2016, questions ongoing racism and class distinction in his home city, gun control (or lack of) and conspiracy killing. However, it’s an album that leaves the listener pensive rather than depressed or downbeat. It’s no surprise that his set this evening includes a large chunk of the album together with his customary crowd favourites and the odd killer cover to complete the setlist.
Prophet’s characteristic stage presence, often tongue in cheek, has all the moves, shapes, facial expressions and antics that makes his shows every bit as much a visual delight as a musical feast. Behind this window dressing is a guitar player to equal any in his genre and a band to match in The Mission Express -"the longest Mission Express line up that Stephanie and I have ever had and one that we want to last forever" he explains early in the show. He is of course referring to his wife Stephanie Finch (keyboards, vocals), James De Prato (guitar), Kevin T White (bass) and Vicento Rodriquez (drums) whose combined interaction is faultless throughout the show, as are Prophets frequent guitar solos, more often than not extended from the studio songs versions, delivered on his trusted white fender which he often comments can play the licks unaided at this stage it’s been around so long.
The hilarious Jesus Was A Social Drinker, which got one of the biggest cheers of the night, had to be included in the set given the lyrics "Jesus wasn’t Irish, just imagine if he was. He might have written poetry and verse, And enjoyed a pint of Guinness every day for lunch." It’s funny, it's clever but also includes some serious input from Finch from her robotic cowbell intro to her brilliant keyboard solo which Prophet encouraged be played a number of times while he casually corrected a loose lead in his guitar amp.
The set had started off with an instrumental intro before launching (1-2-3-4!) into Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins and kicking on with Fast Kid and Rider or Train. A maestro in terms of audience participation, only a few songs into the set list and he demands a call and response to Temple Beautiful and from then on has the crowd eating out of his hands encouraging or rather demanding people to get of their chairs and move.
Bad Year For Rock And Roll is dedicated not only to the musicians that passed away last year but also fittingly to Mohammed Ali, Harper Lee and the politically non-democracy that worryingly prevails, particularly in his resident country. He recounts how he was approached by an elderly gentleman after a recent show in Berlin who tapped him on the shoulder and simply enquired "Mr. Prophet, we’ve created history by taking down walls, why would your people even consider building walls."
Fittingly Barely Exist follows with Prophet reminding us of the hopelessness facing so many people on the southern borders of America and questioning why on earth they should not strive for a better existence by crossing borders to the prospect of basic survival for them and their families.
An extended adaption of In The Mausoleum (written for the deceased Alan Vega of electronic duo Suicide) features Finch sharing vocals with Prophet, who mid song slips his Fender over her shoulders encouraging her to let rip with some beautifully distorted feedback. We Got Up And Played, slowing things down for the only time in a full on set, is introduced as a true story of how unglamorous and difficult touring can be, sound men not showing up, loading in equipment on cold winter nights, long drives in cramped vans and poor crowds. A cover of Rank & Files Amanda Ruth also has Finch centre stage in front on the microphone again before a lengthened Summertime Blues with Prophet and De Prato splendidly sharing guitar licks. You Did with it’s expected audience input rolls on for the best part of ten minutes including a ripping solo by Prophet. Wish Me Luck see Prophet demanding the audience to vocally do exactly that and isn’t content until they drown out his vocal with good luck gestures and Willie Mays Is Up At Bat, a favourite of the baseball loving Prophet and always played in his shows, closes out the show.
Encores include the Howard Tate soul tour de force Shoot Em All Down and the Bobby Fuller classic Let Her Dance with Prophet coming off stage and finishing his solo among the audience. The closer Shake Some Action is proceeded by a tale of seeing the Flamin' Groovies for the first time at the age of fifteen, hearing the best ever power pop song ever written and at that moment deciding what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
Chuck Prophet, and this can’t be said of many artists, managed to transform a dull, wet Wednesday night into a New Year’s Eve celebratory type evening with a performance that ticked every box you’d hope for in a live show. Great songs, exceptional playing and no end of humour to a very large, appreciative and engaging congregation. I was still grinning from ear to ear when I arrived home after a five-hour round trip that was worth every minute and mile.
Support act John Blek also deserves a worthy mention. An artist that is just as comfortable with the fuller and rockier sound of his work with John Blek & The Rats as he is with his more folk/traditional solo work. Night & The Liquor, Ruby Blood, Lightness Vs.Weight and Little Sparrow from his excellent solo album Cut The Light all featured in a slot that was particularly well received.
Review and Belfast photograph (above) by Declan Culliton
Whelan’s 28th July 2017
If the round trip to Belfast could only be tackled by our dedicated scribe Declan, with plenty of positive energy and stamina reserves, then my short trip into Whelan’s was a complete breeze.
The best recommendation I can make is a Chuck Prophet show If you like to rock out and forget the daily routine. The Mission Express, as a band, really kicks up a storm – with both the noise level and their full-on adrenalin attack. Members Stephanie Finch, Kevin White, Vicente Rodriguez and James DePrato play in perfect unison and produce a compelling support behind Chuck, who is the consummate front-man.
He struts and poses over the audience as he cajoles a reaction from all those faces staring up at him. He has a magnetic charm as a performer and the avid crowd hang on his personal anecdotes. His defining quality after you strip everything down is his quality on guitar. Searing solos and wonderful dual play with James DePrato remind me of Allman Bros or Thin Lizzy when they dove-tail together for some extended workouts during the set.
The songs were very much the same as Belfast so I won’t repeat the running order as already outlined above by Declan. Suffice to say that every song is played like it is the first and last time it will ever be heard; total commitment and intensely honest delivery. The inclusion of a Linda Ronstadt song in the encore, Different Drum, was sung by Stephanie and created a pleasant moment of calm amid the tornado that spilled off the stage and into the packed crowd tonight. Fantastic show!
Review by Paul McGee Dublin photograph (at the top) by Vincent Lennon