Saturday, September 07, 2013

Acoustic Roar

Category:  Concert Review

Robbie Fulks began to explain the scenario behind "Where I Fell," one of the songs off his brilliant new album Gone Away Backward, to the sold-out audience at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago on Friday (9/6), then he stopped.  "It's in English,"  he said with his trademark dry humor, "so you'll figure it out."

Fulks and his stellar band left little to "figure out" as they roared through a two-hour set of acoustic and bluegrass music, highlighted by half a dozen songs from the new release.  Backing Fulks were his longtime accomplice Robbie Gjerose, former Del McCoury Band bassist Mike Bub (who also played banjo) multi-instrumentalist Chris Scruggs, and amazing fiddler Jenny Scheinman (who played on the album and opened the show with 50 minutes of her own music).  

After opening with "Where There's a Road," a song that Sam Bush covered on an album, Fulks dusted off an obscure chestnut, "I Just Want to Meet the Man" from his sarcastically-titled The Best of Robbie Fulks.  The song, with its underlying threats of violence directed toward the new lover of the narrator's ex-wife, is not easy to explain.  Fulks admitted post-concert that the song is either received by laughter (which was the case this time) or stone silence.  "Let's Kill Saturday Night" works as well with an acoustic arrangement as the rocking original, and "Goodbye Good Lookin'" was presented with a swinging jazz feel highlighted by Scruggs on the bass. 

"That's Where I'm From," the masterpiece of Gone Away Backward, was the first new song unleashed on the crowd, and a perfect place to start.  The quiet music behind lyrics simultaneously missing home and realizing the adage "you can't go home again" is true captivated the crowd.  If a Grammy ever needed a song to reward it's "That's Where I'm From."  

Most of the band then departed, leaving Scheinman and Fulks alone onstage for "I'll Trade You Money for Wine."  The tortured soul of the lyrics' narrator was more haunting than on the recording thanks to Scheinman's fiddle work.  Fulks lightened the mood by doing a duet with Scheinman on the Carter Family classic "Single Girl, Married Girl."

Following "Goodbye, Virginia," a song that is on the download-only "album" ("marathon" might be a better description) 50 Vc. Doberman Fulks asked for requests from the audience.  A number of songs were shouted to the singer, along with a call for "Gram Parsons," to which Fulks replied, "Are there any requests for songs I made up?"  After hearing a few more songs shouted at him Fulks said, "We'll do the Gram Parsons."  He didn't (hopefully one day he will -- "Sin City" is a song begging for the Robbie Fulks touch), going instead into "Tears Only Run One Way."  He prefaced the great "Georgia Hard" by saying he was a southerner by upbringing (as he sang earlier in "That's Where I'm From," the land "where it's 'yes, ma'am' and 'no, sir'") but after living in Chicago since the early 1980's he considered himself a Chicagoan, something the protagonist of "Georgia Hard" could never bring himself to do.

Near the end of the set he presented to other highlights from the new album, "Sometimes the Grass is Really Greener," which featured Bub on banjo, and "When You Get to the Bottom," complete with harmonies that would make any bluegrass band this side of Dailey and Vincent green with envy.  Fulks explained that Scruggs is the grandson of Earl Scurggs (his mother is country singer/producer Gail Davies, leading Fulks to conclude Chris is "royalty" and has "a super DNA thing") before the band did a smoking instrumental version of "Fireball Mail."  "Busy Not Crying" and Fulks' tongue-in-cheek ode to his home state of North Carolina, "Cigarette State," closed out the set.  The encore featured another highlight from the new album, "Long I Ride," and a superb and surprising George Jones cover, the great but forgotten "If I Don't Love You (Grits Ain't Groceries)."  

Fulks will begin a tour next week to promote Gone Away Backward, performing two months this year then more dates in 2014.  Do not miss this performer or this album.

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