San Francisco singer Chuck Prophet returns to Penngrove’s Twin Oaks for August residency
San Francisco singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet has been through a lot since he last played Penngrove’s Twin Oaks Roadhouse a year ago.
In his triumphant return to that stage last Sunday night, Aug. 7, he and his hard-driving band, the Mission Express, played two full sets, quenching the crowd’s thirst for Prophet’s unique blend of rock ’n’ roll.
It was the first of four shows this month; Prophet will be back at Twin Oaks every Sunday in August.
Wearing a white dress shirt, black vest and black suit, Prophet and his band strode through the audience and onto the stage as a full house of 250 fans cheered exuberantly.
The band, with Prophet’s wife, Stephanie Finch, on keyboards and accordion, opened with “Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins,” the title track of their 2017 album.
Prophet’s sound ranges from soulful ballads to surf music, from California noir to quirky pop anthems such as “Wish Me Luck.” That song took on added poignancy Sunday night in the wake of Prophet’s recent cancer diagnosis.
A few songs into the set, Prophet obliquely told the crowd, “You may have heard I caught a nasty cold. … I had a little setback.”
Prophet, 59, is battling lymphoma, which he revealed on Twitter last March. In that tweet, he apologized for canceling some shows because he had to give his “family crisis” immediate attention and promised “one hell of a makeup tour.”
So on Sunday, the band ripped into the Prophet’s 2009 song “Holding On” with the lyrics: “I went to see the doctor. He said, ‘You should be dead.’ I said, ‘I was doc, but now I’m back.’”
The crowd erupted into one of its biggest cheers of the night.
The self-deprecating Prophet closed the first set with what may his biggest hit, “Summertime Thing,” which he introduced as a “seasonal song that features three of my favorite chords.”
The outdoor show, in the century-old roadhouse’s backyard, culminated with a full second set under the moonlight and the smell of barbecued ribs in the air.
“As a new fan, I’m jaw-droppingly impressed,” said Steve Jawgiel of San Francisco at the show. “The songwriting, the musicianship, the whole package.”
A second-set highlight was “Nixonland” from Prophet’s 2020 album, “Land That Time Forgot.”
The song grew out of what Prophet called an emotionally scarring fourth grade field trip to Richard Nixon’s first law office in San Clemente, near where Prophet grew up.
“How lucky are we to have a weekly residency with one of the great bands to ever come out of San Francisco,” said the show’s promoter, KC Turner.
“Since his cancer diagnosis earlier this year, I’m going to hang on to every lyric and every note,” Turner said in an email before the show. “It’ll be grand!”
As the last light faded from the sky, the band closed with “Willie Mays Is Up At Bat.”
Prophet, who grew up listening to Dodgers games, dedicated the song to legendary L.A. baseball announcer Vin Scully, who died Aug. 2.
“The thing about baseball and rock ’n’ roll is that nobody knows what’s going to happen next,” Prophet said to the crowd.
After returning for an encore — the Flamin’ Groovies’ song “Shake, Some Action’s What I Need” — Prophet spread his arms wide and said, “That’s all I got. If you want more, you’ll have to come back next week.”
Prophet spoke by phone to The Press Democrat in July, ahead of his residency at Twin Oaks Roadhouse. Here are highlights from that interview.
Q: How are you doing these days?
A: I’m pretty good. I have more good days than bad days. I’m getting excellent care at Kaiser and feeling pretty, pretty fortunate.
Q: How did you learn that you had lymphoma?
A: I was just ready to get on a plane to go on an American tour, and I had a routine visit. They said, “We saw something we don’t like here, and we’d like to do some more tests.” And I was like, “No, I don’t think you understand. You got the wrong guy.”
Then they told me that it was treatable, and it was beatable. I may have been able to be more low-key about it, but the fact that we were canceling gigs was weird. So then I had to come out and tell people what was going on.