August 4, 2011

Concerts #342, 599 - Robbie Fulks at McCabe's Guitar Shop (July 31, 2004 - July 31, 2011)

I've seen Robbie Fulks twice now, the first time in 2004, then again in July 2011. Two shows, same venue, two very different impressions.

July 31, 2004. Robbie's show wasn't bad, but I went home with expectations slightly unfulfilled, as I felt there was too much "country" and not enough "alt" in his show. I can't say the concert was boring, but I found Robbie to be a little less engaging than some of the other leading artists in his vein. It was a solo show, with no guests and no back-up musicians. He performed the whole concert standing up, towering over McCabe's' tiny stage. "She Took A Lot Of Pills And Died" is the only song I can recall from his entire gig.

But Ben Vaughn, Robbie's unannounced opening act, was a revelation. At that time, Ben was nothing more than just a name I had heard of before. His songs were exceptionally good - the one that stood out the most was "Growin' A Beard", a humorous rockabilly ditty. In the ensuing months and years, I found myself buying and listening a lot to Ben's music, all thanks to his thirty-minute opening slot at McCabe's.

Ben Vaughn
Back to Robbie Fulks. After my less-than-auspicious introduction to his music in 2004, my interest in Robbie's work went way down and it wasn't until a couple of years ago, when I discovered his association with Bloodshot Records, that I started paying attention once again. His rousing version of Johnny Cash's "Cry, Cry, Cry" was a strong ear opener, so when McCabe's announced Robbie's gig in July 2011, I immediately bought a ticket and so did my friend Steve.

July 31, 2011. Robbie Fulks came out with guitarist Robbie Gjersoe, who played the guitar, provided backup vocals, as well as some good humor. The two Robbies put on an outstanding show, full of energy, laughter, quality songs, great picking and strong vocals. I enjoyed very much the family-room atmosphere created by the two musicians, who clearly had as much fun as the crowd.

Robbie Fulks (right) and Robbie Gjersoe at McCabe's
Robbie Fulks used at least four different singing voices, a skill seldom exhibited even by the finest vocalists. He hit high notes with power and precision and his lows were equally good. There were plenty of up-tempo songs, interspersed with a few outstanding ballads. Most of the songs were new to me, but it did not matter - everything they played was tuneful, catchy and instantly likable.

The set list
They also played a few songs not appearing in their set list, among them "The Buck Starts Here" and "Scrabble". I don't think I can pick a highlight, the whole show was solid from start to finish.
Robbie Fulks (right) and Robbie Gjersoe at McCabe's
One of the special charms of McCabe's is what happens after the show is over. As the crowd lingers on in the store, quite often the performers come out to shake hands, sign autographs, share stories and meet fellow musicians. In July 2011, Michael McKean of Spinal Tap fame was on hand to meet Robbie Fulks.

Michael McKean chatting with Robbie Fulks after the show
Michael McKean and Robbie Fulks after the show
The empty stage, after the show

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