Robbie Fulks Conveys Heartbreaks And Humor At Jammin’ Java

Juli Thanki | November 24th, 2009

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Actually, scratch that last part. This tale of two Robbies—alt-country treasure Robbie Fulks, joined by similarly forenamed, longtime sideman Robbie Gjersoe—features only good times and great music, bolstered by hefty doses of swearing and hilarity.

Equal parts everyman and intellectual, Fulks is something like a modern day Roger Miller, able to convey humor and heartbreak in a single turn of phrase. My personal favorite lyric of the evening was “Willie Nelson I’m not/But I ain’t no Willy Loman” from “Check Out the Career,” a new song inspired by a presentation Fulks once gave about the life of a professional musician to a group of unimpressed highschoolers. It’s a song that should really be heard in person, if only to witness Fulks relate a conversation with his snooty British neighbor, which ended when Fulks posited where he, an itinerant troubadour, might be at age 60: “probably burning your house down and [engaging in sexual relations with] your granddaughter.”

Much of the material played Saturday night came from recent 50 song, digital-only release 50-Vc. Doberman a collection which ranges from the mournful country of “Goodbye, Virginia” to “On the Corner of I Love & U,” a bizarre little number introduced as “a Teutonic beer hall, Weimar Republic, Bob Fosse, gay song.” I thought that it also included a dash of Spike Jones’ vocal turn on “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” and although Fulks’ wife may have described it as the worst song by anyone, ever, I’d say it’s only in the Top 5000. However, the Jammin’ Java crowd seemed to dig it—the song is much better live than on the record, for whatever that’s worth—so you might want to check it out and form your own opinion.

Fulks then asked for audience suggestions, gamely listening to shouted song titles for a beat before chirping “Well, on with the show!” He did end up playing several requests, including “I Told Her Lies” and the pro-death song “We Live A Long Time to Get Old,” (from covers album 13 Hillbilly Giants), which was requested by a local couple whose wedding Fulks played (based upon the entertainment value provided by this show, I am considering an arranged marriage for the sole purpose of getting Robbie Fulks to play the reception. Submit applications c/o The 9513.)

The night was still young when the Robbies ended their 90 minute performance with a stripped down version of “Let’s Kill Saturday Night,” briefly returning for an encore that included Fulks’ chestnut “She Took A Lot of Pills (And Died)” and a fiercely flatpicked take on Howdy Forrester’s “Say Old Man, Can You Play the Fiddle” (both Fulks and Gjersoe are accomplished guitarists and traded solos throughout the set, but this was by far the best showcase of their skills). Getting home in time for Forensic Files may not quite fit the definition of killing Saturday night, but it sure didn’t look like there were any dissatisfied customers.

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