Robbie Fulks; December 3, 2011; Kiki’s House of Righteous Music
Used to be Robbie Fulks and his band played Madison frequently, a festival here, a Harmony (and eventually a High Noon) show there, but in recent years he’s been lying a little low. It’s not just Madison, he tends to stick closer to Chicago these days, playing a weekly residency at the Hideout and only occasionally hitting the road. After seeing him this summer at the Marquette Waterfront Festival I decided it was time to ask if he wanted play another house concert. His schedule was pretty tight up until Thanksgiving, but we picked this day not knowing it would be the same date as the Big 10 Football Championship Game. There was still a sold out crowd but I did have a few cancellations in the week before the show, including my best house concert customer.
It had been three years since the last time Fulks had played at the house, accompanied by the fantastic Robbie Gjersoe. This time at least I knew Gjersoe was coming, avoiding an embarrassingly speechless moment when I opened the door. I’ve been a fan of the journeyman guitarist, who plays with the Flatlanders and Kelly Willis to name a few, ever since I saw him single-handedly save a Jimmie Dale Gilmore show which seemed destined to crash and burn. The Robbies play well together; both are fantastic guitarists and share a goofy sense of humor. When Fulks pulled out his new ukulele, Gjersoe leaned over and whispered, “If you eat right, you’ll be a big guitar some day.” The unveiling of the ukulele was accompanied by an amusing story of the very serious instrument dealer Fulks had bought it from.
In addition to indulging an impressive and serious bluegrass jones on several occasions, Fulks played a lot of fan favorites. Last time through the basement I knew only a fraction of the songs he played, many of which were from his 50 VC Doberman, a download only record which contains a whopping fifty songs that I never had the courage to tackle. This time however I knew the bulk of them, and the set included several excellent selections from his extensive catalog, like “Took A Lot of Pills and Died,” “Tears Only Run Way” and “North Carolina is the Cigarette State.” He also took requests, “Parallel Bars” and “God Isn’t Real,” while turning down some, “(I Love) The Bangle Girl” (“Because I don’t anymore” he explained). In addition, the new songs he played, like the observant “Normal People” and the hilarious “Fine Batch of Biscuits” were instantly memorable.
He seemed to enjoy the unplugged setting immensely, commenting on how many times you sound great in the dressing room and then terrible on stage due to poor sound systems. Fulks certainly has the power to play this way, even though the basement was packed, you could hear every word. Always the professional, he wrapped up the set at the agreed upon hour and a half on the dot. It was one of the easiest shows I’ve done, and one of the most fun. Hopefully I won’t have to wait three years for him to do it again.