Robbie Fulks McGonigel's Mucky Duck July 26, 2014
Chicago songwriter and flatpicker extraordinaire Robbie Fulks made it look easy before an almost sold-out crowd at the Mucky Duck Saturday night. In spite of several quips about how hot Houston is in July, Fulks didn't even break a sweat as he rolled through 90 minutes of tunes from his 11-album career.
At 51, Fulks has been at this professionally over three decades, so he has the drill down; so much so that it would be easy to say Fulks mailed it in Saturday night were it not for his virtuoso picking, a grab-gab full of songs any writer would kill for, and a voice that hits every note.
Much like Hayes Carll, Fulks sprinkles his shows with wit and wry wisdom and tells a few "stories behind the song," which is de rigueur for solo acoustic shows these days.
Of course, for all his genre-bending abilities, Fulks is at heart just what he professes to be: a bluegrass hillbilly flatpicker. Guitar is second nature to him at this point in his career, and he doesn't even seem to be thinking about playing until he decides to turn it on. Fulks laid down some jaw-dropping runs Saturday night, a few of which even seemed to amuse himself.
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Starting with the title track of his 2005 album Georgia Hard and rolling straight into "I Push Right Over," the show seemed well-planned, or at least it seemed well-planned until Fulks veered into a hilarious monologue on the somewhat painful interview he endured during an afternoon visit to KPFT. Noting that the discussion had veered over to Doc Watson, Fulks announced he'd decided to interject a Watson tune into his Houston set and laid down a perfect cover of "Dear Old Southern Home," wherein he was able to stretch out and show his prodigious licks.
After mesmerizing the attentive crowd with "I'll Trade You Money For Wine" ("It's a short life and a long time underground/ I'll trade you money for wine") and the hilarious yet philosophical "Long I Ride,", Fulks generously threw open the request line. After some nice audience banter, he dove into "one of the stupid songs from my youth," "Cigarette State," and followed up with another smart but hilarious tune, "I Like Being Left Alone." The final request he took was "Let's Kill Saturday Night," which was as far toward rock as Fulks would nod on this night.
Back to his mental set list, Fulks dropped a funny high-school reunion story, the basis for the longish "Fare Thee Well, Carolina Gal," which contains the sentiment "It wasn't Chapel Hill that done me wrong/ It was fine until it wasn't."
Fulks is known for oddities, and at this juncture he swerved far into left field after a preamble about his recent fascination with songwriter Sonny Throckmorton. Fulks went on to reinterpret the Oak Ridge Boys' Throckmorton hit, "Trying To Love Two Women." It brought gales of laughter.
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With the game clock running down, Fulks brought his full-court-press attitude to the finale, working his way through chestnuts like "I Told Her Lies," Goodbye, Good Lookin', So Long," the well-traveled "The Buck Starts Here," a freaky Whispering Bill Anderson cover, "Cocktails," which became one of the oddest singalongs ever heard in the Duck.
He closed out with a shoutout to Mary Brolley, who is departing Houston to return to the land of Lincoln in the coming week, with a laugh-til-you-sob version of "I Wanna Be Momma'd," which proved to be another huge crowd favorite.
With a humorous tip of the hat to his duet partner Kelly Willis on the original recording, the tall Chicagoan returned for a single encore with one of his best lyrics, "Parallel Bars," before the evening dissolved into CD sales, autographs and photos with the faithful. The well-heeled crowd, filled with members-in-good-standing of the Robbie Fulks club, had nothing to complain about.
Personal Bias: I've seen Fulks do acoustic solos and duos many times. Wish he would assemble a rock band and blow some doors off at some point.
Overheard In the Crowd: Nada. One of the quietest, most reverent crowds I've ever encountered.
Random Notebook Dump: No Abba or Michael Jackson covers? This guy must have quit drinking or something.
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