Chuck Prophet and Guests
Feb. 7, 2012
Better than: Going broke at any nearby Mission District restaurant.
To commemorate yesterday's release of his new album, Temple Beautiful, S.F. singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet and Yep Roc Records treated about 40 fans to a guided bus tour of San Francisco last night, followed by an intimate set at The Catacombs with Prophet and an impressive array of guests. The motif of the tour was intended to coincide with the thematic spirit of Temple Beautiful, an appreciation of San Francisco's local lore and unusual history.
Unconventional promotion is not entirely new to Prophet. (We seem to recall a taco cart outside Café Du Nord at an earlier album launch.) But the elaborate bus tour, which took attendees to various San Francisco locales chosen by Prophet, was a particularly earnest and unique gesture, especially considering it was free.
The tour was hosted partly by KFOG/KGO radio personality Peter Finch, who first took us to Treasure Island to gaze at Marco Cochrane's 40-foot tall sculpture of a naked woman with San Francisco's skyline in the background. Since Finch didn't appear to have much of a prepared script, he engaged passengers in a playful banter about San Francisco's landmarks and history, with a focus on its most bizarre and unsung qualities. Between chats, Finch played songs by Garland Jeffreys and The Flamin' Groovies that inspired Temple Beautiful, along with songs from the album and prerecorded commentary from Prophet himself. Despite some awkward pauses and difficulty operating the bus's stereo system, Finch's obvious amusement with the entire evening was endearing, and his sardonic one-liners retained our attention.
After admiring some of Prophet's favorite murals in the Lower Haight, Finch commanded the bus driver to stop next to Central Market and asked passengers, "Does anyone like Southern Comfort?" When he returned from liquor store, he had indeed purchased a bottle, but he was also accompanied an older gentleman in a burgundy trench coat. As he passed the bottle of Southern Comfort, he introduced the man as Joel Selvin, pop music critic at the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 40 years.
Selvin boisterously narrated the tour throughout the Haight district with tales of 1960s rock 'n' roll debaucheries and Jimi Hendrix's fabled panhandle performance, and gave his firsthand account of the night that the original Temple Beautiful -- a legendary punk venue -- burned down. When the bus arrived at the top of Twin Peaks, passengers exited to take in the view. While admiring the brightly illuminated Market Street, a barrage of acoustic guitars rang out: Prophet had been lying in wait and serenaded us with an acoustic rendition of the title track from Temple Beautiful.
With Prophet and his wife accompanying us on the bus to the next location, former Avengers frontwoman Penelope Houston, whom Prophet has collaborated with in a number of capacities, recited a list of the 10 worst things that could possibly have happened on that night. But her appearance was only a taste of the guests in store for later.
The bus tour ended at The Catacombs, a warehouse venue in the Mission, where the 40-odd passengers filed in and grazed upon complimentary beer and snacks. The unconventional space was densely decorated with art, candles, and red velvet flourishes, but the sound was comparable to any other local, professional venue. Prophet's initial set drew exclusively from his newest record, and with a map of San Francisco draped behind the band, it couldn't have been a more thematically cohesive performance.
Prophet has assembled an extremely tight band, and they demonstrated their proficiency right away with "Willie Mays is up at Bat," which ends in triumphant dual guitar leads. "White Night, Big City," the single from the new album, is perhaps the mellowest song on it, with its simplistic, cute keyboard pitter-patter. But it deals with the some of the heaviest subject matter: the assassination of George Moscone and Harvey Milk.
The backup vocals of Stephanie Finch, Prophet's wife, in her woeful, upper register, provided a pleasant foil for Prophet's impassioned delivery, and songs like "Little Boy, Little Girl" in which she was featured prominently, stood out as some of the evening's finest moments.
Prophet's selection of The Flamin' Groovies hit, "Shake Some Action" as a soundtrack to the drive earlier in the evening proved to be heavy-handed foreshadowing as well. Roy Loney, the Groovies front man, took the stage with Prophet and performed three songs from the early Flamin' Groovies catalog. The joyous atmosphere became ecstatic during Loney's brief appearance, both on stage and off.
It was truly a Yep Roc-centric evening. Kelley Stoltz took stage to perform two of his own songs, followed by Prophet's band playing Stephanie Finch originals with her on guitar and lead vocals. But the arrival of John Doe was particularly shocking. He performed one song off his last solo album, Keeper, with Prophet in raucous accompaniment, and then left the stage.
With an ironically chosen cover of Iggy Pop's "I'm Bored" as an encore, the show was through, and an elaborate, unique rock 'n roll album release event was concluded. At one point in the set, Prophet summarily described the impetus behind such elaborate festivities with the observation, "It's good to make records that aren't about yourself. That way, you can have a really good time promoting it."
Chuck Prophet's Setlist
Willie Mays is up at Bat
Who Shot John
White Night, Big City
I Felt Like Jesus
Little Boy, Little Girl
With Roy Loney
A Hundred Miles