Robbie Fulks’ Year End Review’ December 29, 2011; Fitzgerald’s Nightclub, Berwyn
All of Robbie Fulks’ shows are pretty terrific, whether he’s playing his own music or covering artists as diverse as Michael Jackson, the Everly Brothers or one of the many classic country artists he idolizes, but with his year-end review he out does himself. He began tonight’s show by announcing there would no “Rap of the Dead,” which was met with a groan of disappointment. His “Rap of the Dead” is exactly what it sounds like, an extended rap that sums up all the significant deaths of the year that’s ending. It was always an impressive undertaking; he would write and memorize an original rap that was hilarious and informative. Much like the salute during the Academy Awards, there was always one of two where I was surprised to find out they had passed.
This year we got different kind of rap. After playing a forty five minute set of some of his greatest hits, many of which I had just heard in the basement, he and the band headed into the review portion of the show. For the forty minutes he tackled some of the biggest news stories of the year. Following a farewell to 2011 (“The year that didn’t fool around”) song, we got this year’s rap, which was about how Robbie’s neighborhood in the northern suburbs was way better than any other area. Entertaining? Absolutely, but the rap of the dead it was not. Even so, it is always impressive how well a guy this white can rap. Also impressive was his renditions of the top songs of the year. He admitted at the beginning that he hadn’t heard any of these songs before, which makes two of us, and challenged an audience member to come up and identify the songs as he played them. Kate was an immediate taker. She was in her early twenties and seemed to have a better chance than most of the audience of naming the tunes.
Even so, she was stumped by many of the tunes, and only won with some help from Donna Fulks who whispered some names in her ears. Me? I didn’t recognize a one, and only the names Adele and Maroon 5 were even familiar to me. There was one death they did mention, as guitarist Grant Tye pointed out he got to wear the Bin Laden costume one more time, though this time he had a halo (a questionable addition at best). The Occupy Movement got its own segment with a duet between Fulks and guest star Joe Dempsey who was terrific in his many roles. The best of those was a song about the Republican presidential candidates. As Fulks and bass player Mike Fredrickson sang a catchy chorus of “Candidates! Candidates! Which one will you choose?” Dempsey trotted up to mike with a verse of impressions, quite good ones, of each of the contenders. It was probably my favorite part of thee night.
I couldn’t get behind Fulks’ mock berating of drummer Gerald Dowd and his desire to do a bit as the Science Loving Cowboy, and neither would anyone else, even after being instructed to “go along with it” courtesy of a sign that Dempsey held up behind Dowd. As he pointed out, there were many important science discoveries of the last year, though the discovery of particles traveling faster than the speed of light was the only one he got to mention. As Fulks popped the balloons with rings around them affixed to Dowd’s lab coat he tried to get us all to boo him, instead there were cries of “We love you Gerald” from the audience. The band finished the night with another set of tunes. For the loudly demanded encore from an audience who seemed to be drinking like tonight was New Year’s Eve, Fulks asked the band for some of their favorite wedding reception songs. Fiery versions of “Twist and Shout” and followed.
A crowd that seemed unnecessarily vocal from my spot right up front was apparently intolerable in the middle of the floor. My friend designated them “the worst concert crowd of 2011.” So it wasn’t a perfect night, but it was still pretty entertaining. Fulks does it again.