With a last name like "Prophet," you have but a few paths in life you could take. First there's the obvious, the path of the evangelist. Then there's the option of being a medium, or mind-reader, or soothsayer. Or, as in the case of Chuck Prophet, you could combine both trajectories, and become a musician.
Local hero Chuck Prophet chose the latter, and he just released his eighth solo work, Soap And Water. He played six songs from the record for an amalgamation of friends, family, and fans on a balmy Saturday afternoon in our San Francisco store.
If "American Music" can be defined as having its roots in jazz, blues and the Old West, then Chuck Prophet is definitely a uniquely "American" artist. He could easily be a staple in any House of Blues signature band, or back his van into any roadhouse in the country and put on a jumpin' show.
Amoeba has a certain road-house quality, let's face it, and we were more than glad to let him back his van up to our doors. Prophet plays with great intensity, holding his guitar like it's a limbo stick that
he is going to duck under, or a wily snake that he is trying to straighten out. "A woman's voice'll drug you," he drones in his Lou Reed-like tone, the swampy guitar backing him up with its own plodding, trance-like quality. "You'll get lucky for the chance."
Prophet's music engenders a certain intimacy; it's the perfect kind of relationship between the artist and his audience, all of which is just the sort of show for a setting like an in-store. To wit: during his between-song banter, Prophet looked out over the whole shop and quipped about all the "competition" that was out there staring back at him in the form of other CDs for sale. Immediately a rather strange
guy in a Sublime hoodie, a black fedora, and a Soul Asylum T-shirt ran up to the front of the stage waving a record. "Hm," said Prophet, holding it up to read 'the competition.' "The Sidekicks, Butt Candy,"
he read, deadpan. Everyone erupted in laughter.
Chuck Prophet is funny. "Only ten days til Halloween," he joked. "So if you need the Sisters of Mercy or the 'Monster Mash,' better pick 'em up now…."
He's so funny, in fact, that when he introduced his next song as being to the memory of Anna Nicole Smith, people laughed, even though he wasn't joking. The band then lit into the folk ballad "Would You Love Me?"
From there they played the title track, "Soap and Water," which combined Prophet's deep vocals with backing harmony from his female keyboardist, which created a fuzzy, punky Americana reminiscent of X.
Any evangelist will tell you that you start a sermon strong, then hold everyone in your hand gently until they weep, and then, finally, you leave them stung with the fear of god. This is how Prophet ended his
show, playing the rollicking song "Doubter Out of Jesus." In the front row, especially, there were two people grinning ear to ear: his parents. As for the rest of us, we were believers, too.
- Katy St. Clair