Chuck Prophet: Omega is on the air

Chuck Prophet’s raggedy black T-shirt read: “Ebenezer Baptist Church West.” The Telecaster he played was nasty—good nasty. The Farfisa organ his wife Stephanie Finch fingered was cheesy, smooth cheesy, like Cheez Whiz. (Augie Myers, he of the blessed Sir Douglas Quintet and Texas Tornado groove, would be smiling.) For me and the 50 or so rock ’n’ roll worshippers at the Palms last Wednesday, the lay of the land was languid and bittersweet; it felt just like the “if there was justice in the world, this should be-a hit-song” song on his new album, Summertime Thing.

Prophet said, “We played this song recently and a Mission boho Clark Kent eyewear-donning hipster said to me, ‘Chuck, I don’t mean any disrespect, but that song put me right back where I was the first time I heard “Night Moves.” ’ ”

The Palms’ barnyard clubhouse vibe was in abundance; twittering birds, munching mosquitos and late rosy pink sunlight through the planks were waylaid by the former Green on Red leader’s prowling lyrics mated to slinky Ameri-soul music circa 1962.

I admit I come to Prophet’s music like a virgin. My friend Al Kooper produced a European-only, Green On Red release in 1990. He told me to go. I wondered what the audience would look like—would it be the typical Palms-goer: a 40-plus-year-old male with longish hair and/or Hawaiian shirt and/or gleam in eye with beer in hand? Yep. That was us, not excusing my femaleness, that was us. “Adults who still like to rock and can’t find this anywhere else in clubs or on radio to hear this fine stuff,” a brand new friend sitting outside on the house tractor advised. Another, a diehard fan who had driven up from San Diego, even gave me a T-shirt that said “Zogtone.” It’s an inside joke among the band. I felt privileged.

So like Lou Reed and the Stones, Tom Waits, Doug Sahm, Bob Dylan, John Hiatt, Tom Petty, Joe Ely and some sanctified others before him, Prophet has assembled an incredibly snarly and romantic crack group of real players, tabbed the Mission Express, to dole out his Southern—as in California—gothic tomes. He got dusty swagger—with a vocoder and an Omnichord, lo-fi literary Gram Parsons with pedal steel sound on the side. And his sidekick guitar player from New Mexico? Max, who got swagger in spades playing a sparkly ass Danelectro shaped like Gabriel’s harp. And Prophet’s drummer plays that behind-the-beat snap like Sammy Lay still does.

After gems like “I Bow Down to Every Woman I See,” “Rise,” “After the Rain” and “La Paloma,” I shook off the mental entrapment of what my friends in Chicago used to call “white man’s disease,” grabbed another beer and dug in my heels. You know the feeling.