TVD Live: Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express at Jammin’ Java, 11/7

Chuck Prophet is always cheery and maybe a little goofy on stage. But Sunday at Jammin’ Java out in Vienna, VA, he seemed cheerier than usual. “I don’t know if you noticed, but we’ve been gone,” he said by way of explaining the pandemic that wiped out more than a year and a half of touring. “And now we’re back.”

He said so as if to explain “We might be a little rusty. It’s been a while.” But he and the four-piece Mission Express sounded fine indeed. “We’re going to put this little strip mall in Virginia on the map!” Before a sold-out audience at said strip mall, he doffed his mask to begin with the march of “Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins” and mixed in his well-honed songs from his last handful of albums, including a few from one that came out in 2020, the year time forgot, titled The Land that Time Forgot.

That collection included the dance party of “Marathon,” the reflection into past cultural touchstones in “High as Johnny Thunders,” and the autobiographical tale about growing up in Whittier, CA, and its brooding political shadow, “Nixonland.” But Prophet has such a rich array of surefire live songs that he can mix and mingle in highlights like the participatory “Wish Me Luck” (with a dour intro from Creedence’s “Lodi”), to the enduring “Summertime Thing,” which goes back nearly 20 years to the same album that produced “Run Primo Run,” which he also pulled out.

Prophet has enough songs in his quiver to select ones topical to the moment. While he doesn’t currently have one about the end of Daylight Savings Time, he did have “Castro Halloween,” which lamented “Halloween is gone,” seven days after the holiday. And cowriting “Always a Friend” allowed him to play that blast of an Alejandro Escovedo song.

The Mission Express, named after the bus line in front of his San Francisco house, didn’t sound rusty at all. Stephanie Finch on keyboards and backing vocals makes a nice counterpoint for her frontman husband. She soloed on Dorsey Burnett’s “Hey Little One” and played accordion on a couple of key songs late in the set, including “The Left Hand and the Right Hand.”

Prophet is a very good guitarist, who showcased his style only a couple of times, leaving the lead mostly to James DePrato, who did a lot of slide work. The two would often team up on doubled solos that sounded like nods to Southern rock. And the behatted rhythm section of drummer Vincente Rodriguez and bassist Kevin White kept things solid.

The inveterate touring rocker, Prophet knows a little bit about a show’s pacing, and brought things to a rousing end with his salute to the “Ford Econoline” and the emphatically participatory “You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp).” That brought an encore in which finally, the audience he had described as a “supper club / PTA configuration” was on its feet, abandoning the unnecessary tables and chairs for a celebratory “In the Mausoleum” and “Willie Mays is Up at Bat.”

Opening the show was young San Francisco singer/songwriter Matt Jaffe who brought an extravagant, nearly-Flamenco acoustic guitar style, songs that lingered a little too long, and what Prophet described as “mostly hair.” Primarily, he never rose above the audacious move of preceding his set by blasting the overblown fanfare of “Thus Spake Zarathustra” from 2001: A Space Oddity, an overreach only Elvis could get away with.

SETLIST
Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins
Come On Over
Lodi / Wish Me Luck
High as Johnny Thunders
Coming Out in Code
Castro Halloween
Nixonland
Run Primo Run
Killing Machine
You and Me Baby (Holding On)
Hey Little One
Always a Friend
Summertime Thing
The Left Hand and the Right Hand
Marathon
Ford Econoline
You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)

In the Mausoleum
Willie Mays is Up at Bat

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