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Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express | Turn the Pigeons Loose (live in San Francisco 2000) (Cooking Vinyl)
There's a rarely read book on a library shelf somewhere that's called The Ten Effective Steps To Making A Great Live Album. It's immediately obvious that no-one involved in this production has ever read it as they proceed to break almost all the rules with stunning abandon. For starters, the cover looks like it was designed by a babbling geriatric with Parkinson's; like the bootleg from hell. Next up, all the tracks are separated by five seconds of silence and are faded in/out thus ruining any sense of continuity or illusion of experience. The sound quality is decidedly second-rate too. The bass is boomy, over saturated, and there's very little separation, evading the sort of clarity that Prophet's music needs by which to assert itself. Once you've got yourself accustomed to all that, be warned that this is the second Prophet live album in a row (following last year's ltd. release Homemade Boot - a title, perhaps, more appropriate here) and that, of the fourteen tracks, thirteen are off his last two studio records. Okay, okay, you want to know about the music. Former Green On Red guitarist, Prophet, favours that particular brand of unreconstructed Marlboro Man rock that can be terrifically exciting when done well and, at the best of times, Prophet is one of its prime purveyors. From the effortless Little Feat Gumbo groove of the opener, La Paloma, to the scorching hidden track, 22 Fillmore (Prophet screaming: "I'm gonna watch TV in a rented tux") there's a indubitable energy and passion to this album. Prophet can occasionally write a great song too, check out God's Arms which sounds like late 'Seventies Warren Zevon, the haunting Dyin' All Young or the slow, bruising Apology, which its refrain of "She don't even know Elvis from El Vez" but the versions here are just too swamped in bad sound to make that clear. There's also a tendency to iron out the quirks in his music, opting instead for sheer ballast and boogie - it would have been nice to hear Chuck incorporating some of the loops and samples deployed on his last record into the live set. With the preponderance of CDR bootlegging, artists are going to have to try that much harder to induce you into spending your fifteen quid on live material, something that Turn the Pigeons Loose singularly fails to achieve.

Stav Sherez
CWAS #8 - Summer 2001