Prophet was in town supporting his latest record, "Temple Beautiful," a rocking paean to his beloved San Francisco, but the show began with a short tour through his back catalog, including "Storm Across the Sea" from "No Other Love" and "Balinese Dancer." Prophet and company did a brief, and seemingly irony-free, instrumental homage to the late Whitney Houston, playing a fuzzy snippet of "I Will Always Love You" before hitting the first "Temple Beautiful" tune, "Castro Halloween."
Despite the very specific subject matter of "Temple Beautiful," it's not necessary to have knowledge of the Bay Area to appreciate the new songs. This is in part due to Prophet's songwriting prowess, but also because of the muscular musical chops wielded by the Mission Express. And what was already strong work on record truly caught fire live. Over the rest of the set, Prophet and band hit some of the highlights of the new release, including "The Left Hand and the Right Hand," "White Night, Big City," dedicated to slain San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, and "Willie Mays Is Up At Bat."
The Mission Express proved time and again last night that they're as good as any band currently traveling the interstate by van. Prophet's wife and collaborator Stephanie Finch came out from behind her keyboard to take the mic for the rollicking duet "Little Girl, Little Boy," and later strapped on a guitar for "Tina Goodbye" from her solo record "Cry Tomorrow." Finch's voice, though sometimes lost a bit in the mix, proved a sweet complement to Prophet's rough-edged vocal style over the course of the set. Guitarist James DePrato was a revelation, adding tasty, stinging slide licks and single-note counterpoints to Prophet's signature Telecaster runs, while bassist Kevin White conjured up a monstrously toneful low-end from his Fender P-Bass and vintage Kustom amp.
Throughout the set, Prophet wasn't afraid to let himself and the band off the leash to careen through the songs, and this resulted in some blazing rock 'n' roll abandon, especially the extended and incendiary versions of "Automatic Blues" and "You Did" from the "Age of Miracles" record, and a thematically odd, though eminently satisfying, cover of the Chantays' surf instrumental classic "Pipeline," which rounded out the encore.
In a recent email interview, I semi-kiddingly asked Prophet why he wasn't a household name yet. Everyone at Off Broadway last night left the show asking that same question for real.
Opening act the Jans Project played a really nice, tight set of rock/pop, or pop/rock depending on your perspective, with echoes of late '80s/early '90s college radio darlings like Del Fuegos and R.E.M.