Thursday, 27 July 2017

Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express + Curse of Lono - SummerTyne Americana Festival, Sage 2, Gateshead. Sunday 23rd July 2017

2017 is turning out to be just as big a year for Chuck Prophet as 2016 was a bad one for rock ‘n’ roll. Putting corny associations aside for a moment, Chuck is currently finding renewed love in the UK for his music and in return, he has gifted his fans an excellent album in BOBBY FULLER DIED FOR YOUR SINS. This Sunday evening headline set in Sage 2 at SummerTyne exploded into a rock ‘n’ roll fantasia with the full Mission Express band firing on all cylinders. This was the band’s opening night of a second run of UK dates this year. It eventually rolled out as a two-hour performance, which ran very close to their gig of the year candidate in Nottingham at the back end of the winter.

Opening with the title track from the latest album, the band quickly seamlessly wove the new material into the set. Songs like ‘Bad Year for Rock ‘n’ Roll’, ‘Jesus was a Social Drinker’, and ‘We Got Up and Played’ are fast becoming stage favourites and that is a credit to Chuck with his pretty awesome back catalogue. A full Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express show is an intoxicating experience especially when the lead protagonist is in imperious form. ‘Temple Beautiful’, ‘You Did’ and the closing pre-encore anthem ‘Willie Mays is Up At Bat’ quite rightly form the pinnacle of the show from many perspectives, yet this wouldn’t be possible without Chuck’s trusted team of players – now the longest stable Mission Express line up.

Led by bandleader Stephanie Finch on keys plus much more, the extended trio of James DePrato (lead guitar), Kevin White (bass) and Vicente Rodriguez (drums) each played an highly charged role to fuel the adrenalin. The whole band feel probably peaked on the never ending ‘Summertime Thing’, while Stephanie eased into a duet role for ‘In the Mausoleum’ from the new album and a cover of ‘Amanda Ruth’ from Austin country punk band Rank and File.

There are times when you feel the term ‘Americana’ was designed with Chuck Prophet in mind. Basically, just an old punk sliding into alt-country rock, with a fascinating articulate view on the world, mirrored in his writing. Barely twenty-four hours earlier, and literally straight off the plane, Chuck had participated in a songwriter’s session. The highlight from his four track selection for that show was translated into the full band format a day later with ‘The Left Hand and the Right Hand’ still being preluded by the story of two infamous and notorious San Francisco brothers.

It was clear Chuck did not want this show to end and was only prevented from joining the audience by the lack of steps from the raised stage. He was clearly in the mood for more impromptu stuff and subsided to calls for a cover of ‘Shake Some Action’ by the Flaming Groovies. This eventually closed the show, but not before one final story of a wide eyed fifteen year old falling in love with his life’s destination at a gig by the aforementioned band.

The opening act for this Sage 2 finale at the SummerTyne Americana Festival, and also on Chuck’s other dates, was UK band Curse of Lono. This five piece outfit are beginning to make prominent inroads with their style of darkened alt-rock music, illuminated by some fine harmony vocal parts and a soundtrack that excites in its diversity. They represent the good side of Americana elasticity and some stage reference to college rock also helped define their presence. A connotation of The Doors meet Dawes sprang to mind during their forty-minute set, which peaked with ‘Don’t Look Down’, a song chosen for inclusion on the US TV series Kingdom. Bandleader Felix Bechtolsheimer gleefully shared that the cheque had cleared before launching into this final number.

Like so much of this year’s SummerTyne Festival, the pairing here was spot on. Probably to a similar extent of the Beth Nielsen Chapman and Callaghan gig that went head to head with this in the Sage 1 finale. The choice was stark in style and Chuck Prophet ensured those who wanted their festival to end in a frenzied haze had their desires fulfilled. 

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