Chuck PROPHET & MISSION EXPRESS (support by Tim O’REAGAN) in N9 Villa te Eeklo, Friday October 5th 2007.
Fiesta guaranteed if you let the man in the building. We saw a number of concerts Chuck Prophet was somehow involved in and never have we been in the least disappointed. (Virtually) solo, with the archetypical Green On Red or with his own band, Mission Express, with his eternal companion Stefanie Finch, always outstanding. Reasons to be cheerful enough: Prophet writes witty, gritty, intelligent and meaningful songs, delivers them with a rock ‘n roll heart and an endearing professional attitude. If we put Richard Thompson aside for a moment (but he’s from a far away and much further evolved planetary system anyway), Chuck can easily claim the title of ,,best rock guitarist in the world’’, ,,the Master of the Telecaster’’. That’s at least the opinion of the many who came to grips with him professionally, like Steve Wynn (of Dream Syndicate fame, and solo or with the Miracle 3) Prophet brushes this aside, possibly a little embarrassed: ,,Steve always says that’’. Of course, in music it’s of no importance to know who’s ,,the best’’, but Steve’s claim clearly displays the respect Chuck’s earned with the colleagues in the trade. And there’s quite a few of them: the number of collaborations Prophet somehow participated in is huge (on his site www.chuckprophet.com he himself drew up a list) Chuck had a new CD to present in De Villa (N9) in Eeklo, and as we wrote at the time of the release of Age Of Miracles (2004), the next one of his CD’s is always at least as good as the previous. Soap And Water is the name and we would have loved to give you our copy to listen to, but, sorry, at this moment and for some time to come, Soap And Water doesn’t part from our CD player.
Chuck had Tim O’Reagan with him, if we counted well, the third drummer of The Jayhawks, the legendary close harmony alt.country band, extremely popular in the Lowlands (Holland and Belgium) during the nineties. O’Reagan is the man who, from behind his drum kit, vocally had to make forget the departure of Mark Olson and actually did just that, according to the review of Belgian rock journalist Inge Schelstraete. This piece was published in quality newspaper De Standaard, reviewing the concert at De Vooruit in Ghendt (Gent; in northern Belgium), June 5th 1997. So Tim is still active and in fact has released his first solo CD, simply called Tim O’Reagan, adorned with a marvellous cover drawing. It got to be a belated but brilliant debut: a number of these rural, melodic songs could have come from the best Jayhawks records as they are very well written. Tim got assistance from some great artists, like Jim Boquist of the defunct Son Volt and Jayhawks members Mark Olson, Gary Louris and Karen Grotberg. In Eeklo only Jim Boquist accompanied him on guitar. It got to be a short meeting that made us crave for more. Tim only played a couple of songs from the new CD, namely These Things, Anybody Else and the instant classic River Bends, coupled with two gems from the Jayhawks era, Tampa To Tulsa and Idle Days. As stated, his own tunes are still in that vein, laid back, aesthetic and artful, but not at all powerless. Jim played his own Last Man On The Road and Tim closed the seven song set up with Lost My Driving Wheel, the frequently covered song by David Wiffen. Tim afterwards proved to be a soft spoken man, a lot like his music. Some time after the shows we had a long and rather profound conversation with Jim about music life in the States. This surpassed our worst fears, and largely: what first saw light under Ronald Reagan as the deregulation continues under G.W.B. (don’t even want to write the name anymore) with the buying up of the radio stations and the bigger, well known clubs, so vital in de evolution of musical life. Everything is being centralised and obviously kept under control. For beginning artists it is virtually impossible to get heard if you’re not prepared to play the game and if you won’t conform. Nobody will play your songs, even if they would like to, as the playlist is drawn up and managed from somewhere up high, far from public sight. Big Brother just became reality. It e.g. incited three of the four members of Son Volt to quit music, all those years ago already. A somber picture indeed. On the other hand, Tim O’Reagan can always come over again, if we are to decide, but then please with a complete show and a full band!
After the quietness of the duo it got time to unleash Chuck and his full band. Oh boy, from the very start they got into it: ,,I don’t wanna be alone tonight’’, Chuck sang while Stefanie Finch, radiant as ever, underlined this with the farfisa. A second guitar player (James De Prato), bass (K.T. White) and drums (Todd Groper from Cake) completed the line up. With Let’s Do Something Wrong the series of songs coming from Soap And Water started out. On the studio version a child’s choir from Nashville sings. Chuck apologised that they would have to do without the little singers. And in fact on CD this lyrically witty Let’s Do Something Wrong sounds great (other tunes like Would Yo Love Me? also get added value through the choir), but live Mission Express doesn’t need any help to have a full sound. Here Stefanie’s accordion does the trick. Via Homemade Blood (title track from the CD of 1997) we come to the first real climax, Doubter Of Jesus (All Over You) Here Chuck plays one of those incredible monumental solo’s of which he knows the secret. Sparks fly all around during this song. Mind you, no showcasing here, no endless, pointless running up and down the strings: he keeps all the guitar work very functional and disciplined. But this song just begs for a fiercely intense solo. That’s what he fully exploits. Small-Town Girl and Soap And Water come after, followed by the melodic Summertime Thing (from No Other Love – 2002) where he once again explores all the possibilities of his instrument. The next two tunes come also from No Other Love: the frenzied Run Primo Run and the requited After The Rain, on which Finch also plays the guitar. Prophet may technically not be the best of singers, but he acts his lyrics in a sublime way, bringing in the right innuendo’s (especially his ironic phrases are well delivered) Next is the first and last cover of the set, Stefanie bringing Nothing But A Heartache. It takes some time before we can bring this well known song home, or near home. Stefanie confirms it’s from one hit wonders The Flirtations, 1968! The set ends with You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp), one of the highlights from Age Of Miracles, and for that matter Chuck’s whole catalogue. The first time you hear it, it sounds like just another song, but then you start to understand the seemingly lightweight lyrics and you get swept away by the irresistible rhythm and its hidden swing. The song swells live to epic proportions and for the third time Chuck gives it all he’s got, this round with a dead or alive attitude. What a climax we get! Three encores follow, starting with Solid Gold which he brings solo with acoustic guitar. But we had already had the three magical moments in a concert we simply couldn’t find any low point in. Hard working Chuck & band know how to keep things going. It rocks, it swings, it pleases, it overpowers, it amazes, and from time to time it moves. Well, that’s Chuck Prophet. Then to think that a number of top songs from Soap And Water didn’t even get played, probably as they didn’t fit into this context. So we missed A Woman’s Voice, one of the very best tongue in cheek songs we heard in a long time. That only some thirty people, service and stolen passengers included, withstood this ,,torture’’ is one of the great mysteries our this time. Where was everybody? You couldn’t have been at the concert The Police: that was three days later!
Antoine Légat (Dutch/Flemish original in its final form and this translation October 17th 2007)