Robbie Fulks w/Robbie Gjersoe; September 12, 2008; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music
Proof positive that it never hurts to ask. Usually when Robbie Fulks plays Madison he can be seen at the 400 capacity High Noon Saloon, having recently upgraded from the cozier Harmony Bar, but tonight he was seated in front of a much smaller, but still capacity, crowd in my basement. How did I pull that one off? Pretty simple, I asked him. Word got out pretty quickly and I was turning away people by the beginning of the week. No fan wanted to miss the chance to see Robbie play unplugged in such an intimate space.
It gets even better. Earlier in the week Fulks had made mention of “the other Robbie,” which I dismissed as being part of his off-beat sense of humor, a reference to another side of his personality rather than even considering the possibility of a second Robbie. So I couldn’t have been more surprised when Robbie Gjersoe walked in my front door. “Oh, I know who you are,” I stuttered when he introduced himself. I had most recently seen him play with Fulks at the Black Orchid in Chicago for the taping of the acoustic half of last year’s double live album Revenge, but even before that I had seen him play with some of Austin’s more notable musicians, Kelly Willis, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and The Flatlanders (who apparently have just finished a new record according to Gjersoe). I once saw him single-handedly save a Gilmore show at Luther’s Blues that seemed in danger of jumping the tracks for most of the night.
While he calls Texas home now, he has spent his fair share of time in Wisconsin having gone to school right here in Madison. I barely remember a guitar player in Robbie’s band before Grant Tye- that would have been Gjersoe. I’ve heard he also put in time with Paul Cebar, though I am not sure I ever saw that incarnation of the band. A wonderfully talented and diverse guitar player he always seems to be having a blast playing no matter who it is with. With him on hand in such an intimate environment, Fulks was able to indulge in a few things that stray from his usual band show. The pair started both sets with intricate instrumentals and throughout the show played off each other. Robbie was still recovering from an illness that had laid him up the day before, so I’m sure he appreciated the break from singing. He had passed on my offer of a PA, and knowing his usual forceful style, I wasn’t surprised. Even though he didn’t have his usual power, the attentive crowd never had a problem hearing.
The course of the set veered from favorites to new songs. For every “Dirt Mouth Flo” there was a brand new German beer hall style song. The latter of which his wife Donna had deemed “his worst song ever,” though Robbie seems to love it. Crowd opinion seemed to be split. He asked for requests early in the second set, but didn’t seem particularly interested in playing the ones he got. A particularly good request was “Parallel Bars” a duet that on record was done with Kelly Willis, but that I had seen him do once with Anneleis Howell who happened to be in the audience. “Let’s Kill Saturday Night” was one of those shouted out that actually made the cut. The traditional set closer was every bit as danceable played by the duo as it is with a full band, though with the room full of chairs that wasn’t likely to happen.
With no opener the end of the night came far too soon, despite the fact that he did play two sets and an encore. It was certainly the house’s biggest triumph, a sold out show for the biggest name (at least around here) that I’ve had play. At the end of the night I told him to let me know if he ever wanted to do another one, to which he responded “I will and I will.” Good.