Booking an early evening show on the lake in July probably looked like a great idea when it was booked since there is no way they could have known that Southern Wisconsin would be in the middle of its worst drought in decades, and that the misery would be compounded by triple digit temperatures. I guess when you are playing in this kind of heat it helps to be so freaking cool. Even though I was sweating sitting in the shade, with a bandana around his neck and a big hat shading his face, Prophet never seemed to really mind the heat.
His new release Temple Beautiful is a tribute to his hometown of San Francisco, and it is pretty great. The go-to song is “The Left Hand and the Right Hand” about brothers Jim and Artie Mitchell, whom Prophet describes as a modern day Cain and Abel. (Watch the video starring creepy disembodied hands here http://www.rollingstone.com/music/videos/chuck-prophet-the-left-hand-and-the-right-hand-20120430). This was the first time I’d heard the story behind “White Night, Big City” which is dedicated to Harvey Milk, one of SF’s truly good guys. The title track is a tribute to a long gone punk club. It’s bouncy and fun with catchy chorus of “shoo be doo bop wop.” Only Prophet can take that sort of nonsense and make it sound profound, as he does with "You Did (bomp shooby doobie bomp)." A song that he likes to introduce as being so heavy we probably aren’t ready for it.
I don’t think anyone would have blamed him for cutting his set short but he certainly didn’t skimp. Of course “Summertime Thing” made an appearance; it’s hard to imagine a more perfect song for a night like tonight. As far as I know it’s the closest thing Prophet has had to a hit, but he has reinvented it over the years, and it’s great live. His wife Stephanie Finch took her turn at the mike with a song from her record. “Count the Days” was the second song of hers I’d heard and it convinced me to buy Cry Tomorrow after the show. Prophet has a knack for the perfect cover, often digging up garage rock nuggets for his shows. I’ve seen him do the Flaming Groovies “Shake Some Action” before, and it is one of his best.
While Prophet and band had the advantage of a setting sun for their set, Josh Harty and his band had no such relief, which made their blistering opening set even more amazing. They played a familiar set, including Dietrich Gosser’s “Empire Bar,” which Harty likes to mention is “the song my dad hates.” Seeing as he’s a preacher and the song is about too much time spent drinking whiskey, it is no surprise. It was pretty miserable, but they were certainly pros. Extra props to drummer Chris Sasman who had the hardest job of the night.
Yep, it was a show well worth the heat. Maybe next time Prophet plays Madison it will be in the cool confines of the House of Righteous Music. I can only hope.
The Josh Harty Band
Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express