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San Francisco singer Chuck Prophet returns to Penngrove’s Twin Oaks for August residency

IF You Go

Who: Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express

When: 6 p.m., Aug. 14, Aug. 21 and Aug. 28

Where: Twin Oaks Roadhouse, 5745 Old Redwood Highway, Penngrove

Tickets: $37.50

Information: kcturnerpresents.com/calendar

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.

Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express perform “Would You Love Me” on August 7, 2022, at the Twin Oaks Roadhouse in Penngrove. This is one of the best song introductions I’ve ever heard. So good to see Chuck and the band back in Sonoma County after his diagnosis of lymphoma a few months ago.

Posted by Michael Shapiro on Monday, August 8, 2022

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.

Q: Is there anything different about a residency compared to a single show?

A: Yeah, absolutely. We can take chances. We’ll do two sets, and we mix it up from week to week. Not to mention the fact that the Twin Oaks is 100 years old.

Q: You have your wife in your band. Is it ever challenging to be in a work situation with someone you love?

A: Well, I love the other guys in the band, too (laughs). I did not get into playing music to play by myself. I’m definitely into the shared experience.

It can take a toll on a relationship, for sure. There have been a lot of highlights and lowlights along the way. She’s always complemented whatever’s going on, so much.

Q: Though it was created before the pandemic, your 2020 album, “Land That Time Forgot,” feels like a pandemic album.

A: Thematically, there’s some anxiety going through it. We were living in pretty uncertain times, even before the pandemic.

Q: You’ve said it’s a miracle when a song like “Summertime Thing” shows up. Do songs like that just appear, or is it work to get to that space?

A: Well, I hate to hear myself talk about songwriting in any kind of mystical way … but I keep doing it anyway. In the case of “Summertime Thing,” which has endured — it’s three chords, right? — probably the first three chords that anybody could have learned at CYO camp.

I do remember strumming those chords and shouting at the walls and digging what I was hearing coming back. I had a notebook and sketched out a couple of verses. And then at the top of the page, I wrote “Summertime Thing.”

Later, we started playing that. I knew immediately that there was something about it, the feel of it. I sometimes talk about placeholder lyrics as the bone that you throw in the soup, and then you take it out before you serve it up. In this case, the bone stayed.

Q: Is it about clearing the channel or keeping your ears open?

A: I have a healthy appetite for music. So I do a lot of listening. I’m not that cranky about pop culture, you know?

Q: Anyone in particular you’re listening to now?

A: No, not really. But I had a road manager in the U.K. who nearly kicked me off the bus because he found out I was listening to Lily Allen. I was still damaged then!

Q: You’ve said you like songs that make sense, but not too much sense.

A: That’s where the poetry is. As I get older, I’m less and less impressed by somebody doing Dylan-esque cartwheels across the page.

Some of my favorite songwriters, like Jonathan Richman, loom large over me. He’s got songs like “Fender Stratocaster” — you don’t have to stand very far back and squint to understand what it’s about.

You don’t want people to see it all coming, because then it’s boring. There are three stages: the idea, which is pretty easy. If you don’t have one, you can borrow one.

The second part is you craft it together. But the third thing is that mystery, that magic that makes you want to hear it again.

Q: About 30 years ago, you were in a great band called Green on Red? Do you feel you got the attention you deserved?

A: We got more than we deserve.

Q: You’re the first musician who’s has ever told me that.

A: Absolutely. We got away with murder. I mean, we did nothing but fail upward. We were really making it up as we went along.

Q: What are you looking forward to during the upcoming residency?

A: We really love the Twin Oaks, and we love what we’ve been able to build up there. It’s outside, and the sun will be going down. They haven’t said no to anything. It’s been great.

Michael Shapiro writes about the performing arts and travel.

IF You Go

Who: Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express

When: 6 p.m., Aug. 14, Aug. 21 and Aug. 28

Where: Twin Oaks Roadhouse, 5745 Old Redwood Highway, Penngrove

Tickets: $37.50

Information: kcturnerpresents.com/calendar

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