Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express With Jesse Malin At The Bootleg, Thursday December 28th 2017
Jesse Malin is not old (he is just 50) but he acts as if he was an old dude who doesn’t understand the internet, the ‘Facebox’, ‘the Google box’ as he called them, and Youtube, he was constantly joking about the new media last night as he opened for Chuck Prophet at the Bootleg bar. He definitively wants to keep his ‘Outsider’ outlook on life (the title of his first song), the old-school NYC punk rocker view, and he navigates between the music of all his heroes, covering the Pogues’ ‘If I should Fall From Grace With God’ with only two guitars on stage. His act is rather stripped down these days, while his strong vocals are just accompanied by his acoustic guitar and musician Derek Cruz, who was switching from guitar to keyboard during the set. ‘I was scared to become a solo artist,’ he admitted at one point, ‘because I thought I would have to play, you know, acoustic guitar’… ‘and all my friends started to call me Jesse Malin-camp’ he continued jokingly. This was the tone of the show, with Jesse Malin’s jokes fusing between songs.
He was in LA for a recording session, may be to make a follow-up to his recent EP ‘Meet Me at the End of the World’ which features the heartfelt ‘Revelations’, which gently blends into Big Star’s ‘Thirteen’, two songs that he performed between jokes, jokes about walking in LA: ‘Everybody thought I was a male prostitute!’, or personal revelations about still liking cassettes and record stores. He is an old-fashioned guy, and a song crafter, like Ryan Adams who produced his debut album, and he can play and sing his songs with a loud passion despite the few instruments on stage.
People told me ‘not to mix your politics with your music’, he told us before an ardent rendition of ‘Turn Up The Mains, ‘You can love your country and hate your fucking government,’ he added in front of a the crowd who was not going to contradict him.
The keyboard on ‘Hotel Columbia’ had a sort of Van Morrison flavor, and just to show us even more he never forgets about his origins, he dedicated the melancholic ‘Brooklyn’ to Lucinda Williams, who was in the room. ‘I don’t know why, Christmas is mentioned in a lot of my songs for dramatic reasons and romantic reasons’, he was continuing. Jesse Malin was in a very talkative mode, but looking at his assurance on stage I would say that it is probably always the case, it’s his New York punk natural. ‘I got into this music business for anti social reasons but now I am very social,’he said before the upbeat ‘Meet Me at the End of the World’, and when he was telling us about his experience about touring in Moscow with Gogol Bordello, I noticed his Bad Brains and Johnny Cash stickers on his guitar.
Jesse Malin has his feet solidly planted on the ground, his songs talk about his personal experience, his hopes and dreams and the necessity to grab reality with a guitar and the salvation of music. Recently, he and Lucinda Williams have been connecting a lot as the two songwriters both share a love for outsiders (are we back to the beginning?) and for songs anchored in people’s harsh reality.
The night was headlined by Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express, and if harshness may ogle at each corner of their music with humor, our reality became really entertained by Chuck and his four-piece band. Shamefully, I had never heard about them, but a lot of people in the room had driven from far away to see San Francisco band. Describing their alt-country style, a genre that can engulf a lot of different things, can be a hard task, but their two first song, ‘Bobby Fuller Died for Our Sins’ and ‘Fast Kid’ could have been born from a meeting between Warren Zevon and Steve Earle, while frontman Chuck Prophet had the wide-eyed youthful energy of Jonathan Richman with an English-style wit and even a sort of vague resemblance with Paul McCartney…if anything of this makes sense.
They played many songs from their most recent album ‘Bobby Fuller Died for our Sins’, ‘A record which was written in a year (2016) when we lost so many of our musical heroes,’ explained Chuck, ‘like Prince, Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, but also heroes like Mohamed Ali’… ‘This is also the year when we lost any illusion we may have had for democracy in this country’, he laughed before ‘Bad Year for Rock and Roll’, an upbeat number despite the depressing theme, which starts with the lines: ’The Thin White Duke took a final bow / there’s one more star in the heavens now…I’m all dressed up in a mohair suit / watching Peter Sellers thinking of you/ Wondering where it’s all gonna end’.
‘Temple Beautiful’ boomed and bounced as he encouraged us to clap and sing along, and beside a few slow and melancholic moments making the guitar cry (‘Holding On’) the music was playful and joyful with Chuck’s wife, Stephanie Finch, delicately and discreetly harmonizing behind her keyboard. The entire set was filled with humor (‘Jesus was A Social Drinker’) and blistering guitar solos during the intense melody of ‘You Did’.
Chuck Prophet, who calls his music ‘California Noir’, seems to combine influences with elegance, while developing a unique style romanticizing rock ‘n’ roll history. And this is probably why his last album is entitled ‘Bobby Fuller Died for Our Sins’, after a legend of rock ‘n’ roll who popularized the famous ‘I fought the Law’ punk anthem. A show of the Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express is a trip on the highway of Americana songwriters, with songs populated by characters, and interpreted with a real dynamism and numerous warm interaction with the crowd: There were a few times when the prophet part was showing up, when Chuck was addressing the crowd with a Springsteen-like preacher energy, … they gave us an usually long set, as they must have played for two hours, his band may not be the E-street band but they are certainly working on it.
Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express’ setlist
Bobby Fuller Died for our sins
Fast Kid/ Homemade Blood
Rider or the Train
Bad Year for Rock and Roll
Jesus was A Social Drinker
You did (Bomp Shooby Doopy Bomp)
In the Mausoleum
I Felt like Jesus
Countrified Inner City Technological Man
Wish Me Luck
Willie Mays Is Up at Bat
Open up your Heart
Mr. Pharmacist (The Other Half cover)
Shake Some Action (Flamin’ Groovies)
Jesse Malin’s setlist
If I should Fall From Grace With God’
The Year That I was Born
Turn Up The Mains
Meet Me at the End of the World
All the way from Moscow