The members of Saturday night’s Sings Like Hell audience were a lucky few, and they knew it. Enthusiastic applause exploded in the theater even before Kelly Willis strummed her first chords and continued on throughout the opening notes of each tune that followed. Willis is an alt-country singer/songwriter with a glorious voice, endearing onstage personality, and four kids. After touring in support of her latest release, Translated From Love, the songstress has announced that she’s going to slow down for a bit, stay at home, but continue to sing, record, and play-just without the intense travel schedule wanderlust. Needless to say, those who turned out on Saturday were fortunate to see Willis in top form toward the tail end of her tour.
And the good fortune just seemed to continue when the raucous Chuck Prophet and his band took the stage. The multitalented, prolific, and nearly impossible to categorize Prophet produced Willis’s latest effort, and he and drummer Todd Roper joined her and her trio onstage to showcase the electric feel of Translated. “Too Much to Lose” (one of the tunes the co-headliners co-
wrote) was recreated live and in person, sonically expressing the duo’s chemistry and creating the crescendo of Willis’s set.
Willis began her set on the slower side, with songs like the lilting title track to Translated, and built up the energy through a series of edgy ballads, some cowritten with her husband, songwriter Bruce Robison. Backed by Andrew Nafziger on guitar and John Ludwick on bass, her voice delivered a poignant rendition of the thoughtful “No One Wants to Go to the Moon Anymore” just before Prophet took the stage and the electricity truly sparked.
As Prophet and his gang stepped into their own spotlight-and before they could barely hit their first chord-someone in the audience shouted, “Louder!” And, without hesitation, Prophet replied, “You have no idea how loud we can go.” But there was something more than volume that created the set’s energy-a driving force that delivered one stomping, rocking tune after another.
Prophet has got reverb in his voice that’s apparent even without the microphone effects; it reached into the far corners of the Lobero. Stephanie Finch on keyboards provided proof through song that “A Woman’s Voice Will Drug You,” a tune the band stretched out with abandon. Prophet also scored big with his masterful rendition of the song he cowrote with Kim Carnes, “Just to See You Smile.” And somewhere in the long drawl of “Summertime Thing,” you would have sworn he was sittin’ on a back porch drinking sweet tea spiked with whiskey.
With family residing in Goleta, Prophet announced that the audience was full of friends and relatives, so he might have had an unfair advantage in terms of crowd response. But, in the end, it was all well deserved.