Chuck Prophet played the Real Music Club in Belfast’s Errigle Inn on 26th July as part of his Ireland/UK tour. He’s the Californian singer songwriter, guitarist and producer who first grabbed the music world’s attention back in the ’80s on joining American rock band Green On Red. They parted ways in ’92 and since then Prophet has built up an alternative musical stock pile, not only with the Mission Express, but in collaboration with various artists including Kim Richey, Jim Dickinson, and his long standing alliance with Alejandro Escovedo that has helped create a number of Escovedo’s albums.
Real Music Club gigs generally don’t do standing front of stage. Indeed I’ve only ever seen it happen once before, interestingly at the last gig that Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express played here in 2014. They had walked on stage to the strains of ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ or something similar, and then he had set about shifting those audience members who were placed in front of the stage, nice and cosy with bums on seats. Tables and chairs were scraped to the side as space was made for standing, and dare I suggest – dancing. Either way, a more vertical appreciation of the evening was demanded. We had followed our orders obediently.
Apparently though, this time the tables had already been removed before anyone arrived. I was late and missed this key fact. This also means I missed the support act, Cork’s John Blek, of whom I heard three separate reports that he had played a blinder. So in a pathetic attempt to cover a lack of information at this point I will tell you that John Blek is the pseudonym for John O’Connor, the frontman for folk and country band John Blek & The Rats (apparently named after French graffiti artist Blek Le Rat). The band’s second album ‘Borders’ was released in 2015, and Blek’s next solo album, Catharsis Vol.1, will be released in October.
Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins is the album Chuck Prophet released in February last and it was dotted through the evening between the classics and the crowd pleasers and the call and response numbers. From the new album, Prophet introduced ‘Jesus Was a Social Drinker’ telling us it featured “our own Stephanie Finch on cowbell.” Finch however spent the rest of the night concentrating on keyboards and vocals, with occasional forays away from the keys to be handed a guitar, or to duet with Prophet. During ‘Jesus Was a Social Drinker’ Prophet stopped the band, stopped the guitar and the bass and the drums and he said “let’s hear these keyboards.” On that Finch gave us an excellent spacy 60s woozy response that managed to highlight how strong the keys are on this track – something I confess I hadn’t picked up on properly from the album.
Apparently they opened with the new album’s title track ‘Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins’ which my tardy-self missed. And there was ‘Bad Year for Rock and Roll’ from the new album amongst others, but the show wasn’t just offering the newer material, it rolled back the years and the riffs and the choruses as well.
He slid between the two microphones on stage during ‘Summertime Thing’ from 2002’s No Other Love, and that shifted his voice from singing the lyrics, to announcing the mood in this hazy-summer-dusty number. Then there was ‘Always a Friend’ from Alejandro Escovedo’s 2008 album Real Animal, one of those collaborations mentioned previously.
“Life’s full of challenges” he told us on the long intro to ‘Wish Me Luck.’ He long listed some of the challenges – family crisis, divorce, bad people in high places, his voice graduating from soothing to high demanding by the end of it. “So when I ask you to wish me luck” he shouted, “I mean it.” He moved the crowd closer to the stage and menaced a few people into wishing him luck. When he found the one with the right tone he shouted “that’s what I’m talking about,” and the song started.
Chuck Prophet is adroit at working the audience like that. At bringing us in, both physically and figuratively. At one stage he was on the floor prowling with his guitar through the crowd, shouting over to people on their seats to stand up (and you’d be scared not to). Earlier one audience member (you know who you are) who had lost himself in the music was spectacularly air guitaring, and drumming, finger pointing, hip shaking. “I like the way we have an unscheduled dance contest” Prophet had laughed in appreciation. “I think we have a winner …”
A high calibre night of music; of air guitaring, real guitaring, shouting out, kicking out, playing up and getting down. We’d be shocked if it was any other way.