Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express; October 17, 2010; Shank Hall
Once I learned Chuck Prophet and his band were going to be at SPACE in Evanston the same night Langhorne Slim was at Double Door, I was torn between the two shows. Once I learned that Prophet was playing Milwaukee the next night the decision of what to do Saturday night got a lot easier. (Though after further review, it looks like Jon Langford’s Old Devil’s Ball at Martyr’s would have been the place to be. Not only was it Langford, a draw for me any time, but the oddly indescribable Danbert Nobacon wore a suit with a pitchfork pattern. You don’t see that every day.) I looked at buying a ticket to Shank Hall in advance, but with the ridiculous Ticketmaster service fees- $5 on a $12 ticket? c’mon- I decided to just take my chances. I didn’t need to worry; I took a seat at a table up front, hoping I wouldn’t be the only one standing once the show started.
I’d only heard about the show a few days earlier (thank you Yep Roc tour update, I promise to never delete you without opening you again), and it couldn’t have been announced much before that, but by the time Prophet and his phenomenal band took the stage, there was a decent crowd for a Sunday night, and yes many of them were standing. I am pretty sure Prophet hasn’t played Milwaukee before, so when he exclaimed “We’re going to put Milwaukee on the map!” I assume he meant his own personal map. What followed was as solid a show as I’ve ever seen him play, and without an opener it was probably the longest. Prophet has always been pretty high up on my cool list, but after this show I think he’s a solid second. He told many of the stories I’d heard earlier in the year on his first tour behind the terrific 2009 release Let Freedom Ring!, but he didn’t tell them exactly the same way. The best of these is about the studio they recorded the record in. What started as a quaint idea turned out to be more difficult than he had imagined. The most annoying thing about the state of the art (forty years ago) studio was the frequent power outages, which are especially trying when you are attempting to record. When Prophet would go to the manager to complain, he would shrug and say, “So? It’s back on now.” Some of these stories got so long that Prophet commented “I promise the song won’t be as long as this story.”
Prophet excused the band to play a handful of solo songs. After the first, an acoustic version of his laidback “hit,” “Summertime Thing,” he asked if there was anything anyone wanted to hear. The response was so unanimously “Pin a Rose on Me” that he looked surprised, “Did you guys work this out beforehand?” The rest of the set spanned his catalog, going all the way back t0 97’s Homemade Blood, while drawing heavily from Freedom. He introduced “You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)” with a smirk, “This is so heavy you probably aren’t ready for it,” its catchy but nonsensical lyrics are exactly the opposite of that. The seven minute epic featured one of the most animated and entertaining guitar solos I’ve seen and included some of the best guitar faces I’ve seen him make. Prophet chooses his covers wisely, the ridiculously amusing “Styrofoam” pops up in his set every so often. I heard a disappointed woman at the merch stand after the show looking for the CD with that song on it. Earlier this year Alex Chilton’s “Bangkok” had been part of every set, and considering Chilton’s untimely passing earlier this year, I assumed it would reside there for awhile, but tonight’s show was Chilton-free. Instead he found a new song in his bag of tricks, a cover of Springsteen’s “For You.” I pulled out my camera quickly to catch some video. About a minute in, he saw me and gave me a disapproving look. “No?” I mouthed back, worried, only to get back a just kidding smile and a shrug. I do hope he really didn’t mind, because it is already on YouTube, pay attention to the video and you can see his half of our wordless exchange.
I happily left Shank Hall that night with just one thought, “Chuck Prophet is totally awesome, he needs to play the basement.”