Robbie Fulks and Friends “I Heart the Velvet Underground;” January 16, 2012; The Hideout
I’d barely seen Robbie Fulks in the last couple years, but here I was seeing him for the fourth time in just over a month. All of the shows had been completely different, the song swap with Langford, the basement show and the hilarious year-end review, but tonight’s show showed just how far ranging his talents are. I’m not going to lie, I don’t really know much about the Velvet Underground, I only have one barely listened to record and I only know a handful of songs. Another thing that I’m not going to lie about is that I really only came to see drummer Gerald Dowd, but it turned out to be very worth it for the show and everyone involved.
He’s the best drummer I know, period. I’ve seen him play country, rock, jazz and children’s songs (which are really just perfect pop songs), and he is equally good at all genres. And he can sing too, his harmony vocals add a lot to songs by Fulks, Chris Mills and Justin Roberts. But tonight I got to see something I hadn’t seen before; I got to see him play guitar AND bass. For this show the band members, which also included Steve Dawson on bass and Liam Davis on guitar, each selected a few songs they would like to sing, and Fulks pulled it all together into a cohesive night of music saluting the seminal rock band while somehow avoiding perhaps their best known song. Since “Sweet Jane” is one of only three songs I know, I was left with “I’m Waiting for the Man” and “Sunday Morning” as the only ones I recognized (and both were great).
Actually that’s not quite true. The friend I was with seemed surprised that I didn’t know show opener “All Tomorrow’s Parties” (which I am guessing is where the festival gets its name), but he seemed startled by the next song. “This isn’t a Velvet Underground song,” he said, looking confused. “I know,” I replied, “it’s Jonathan Richman.” Now this was inspired. They took Richman’s song “Velvet Underground” and in the middle of it answered his question “how on earth do they get that sound?” by going into a VU song. In my mind, that song, sung by Gerald, was as much as they sounded like the band they were saluting all night. He had the Lou Reed monotone that I associate with VU down. If I knew the original versions of these songs I would probably know better if that was true or not.
Perhaps the most interesting was a “song” called “The Gift” from their album White Light/White Heat. The quotes are necessary because it was more of a spoken word piece to an instrumental background than a song in the traditional since. Apparently in the original version, the story was heard in one speaker, while the instrumental in the other. Robbie put on his reading glasses and perched on a stool to read the story of Waldo Jeffers who decided he would mail himself to his long distance girlfriend Marsha. How does it end? Badly as you can imagine. I loved Robbie and Gerald, but Steve and Liam were just as great. I’ve never really been a fan of Dawson’s band Dolly Varden, but after seeing him tonight I might give his solo stuff a try. And Davis, the other half of Justin Roberts’ rhythm section, is always terrific.
As I said, I don’t know much about the Velvet Underground, but this show certainly made me want to hear more. It was another Megabus (or as Robbie likes to call it, “The people’s bus”) trip well worth it.