Back on April 18th -- two weeks ago today -- I went to Cowboy Monkey in downtown Champaign to see Robbie Fulks play. As I detailed here, I had seen Robbie put on an absolutely killer show at the C-U Folk and Roots Festival at the end of September. Having just gotten back from Indonesia, the Cowboy Monkey show was not on my radar, and in fact, I learned about it the morning of when WKCR country DJ Ellen Walkington posted a note about it on my Facebook wall.
I'm very glad that she did because it was another excellent show.
Robbie was excited to be back in Champaign-Urbana. He talked about having dinner at Jim Gould's and getting swept up in the beauty of the prairie sky at dusk. He texted his son, who had studied at the University of Illinois, to tell him about the moment that he was having. His son texted back, "'Tis better whilst drunk!" I gained some insight into the average U of I undergrad from that exchange, I think.
Some other great lines from the night included: "This one's about -- well, whatever: it's in English; you guys can figure it out... Two, three, four!" and, in introducing "Monroe's Hornpipe," "Even jazz guys and guys from Pakistan know Bill Monroe's music!"
Playing with Robbie was Rob Gjersoe on a second guitar. The two of them had a ton of fun together. The atmosphere was relaxed and laid back, right up until the point where they started trading licks. On "Cigarette State," Robbie took a particularly strong break and then turned to Rob, who just looked at him, called him, "F*cker...," and played a single note. (And then he whipped out a real solo.) Rob also impressively smoked a cigarette in about three seconds outside of the club before the encore.
There was one point during the concert where Robbie was talking about life on the road, and he cited Brooklyn as an example of a place that is "not particularly hillbilly." I'd like to say that I stood up and said, "Now, wait a minute, Robbie! There is a vibrant hillbilly music community in Brooklyn! And there are great annual events like the Brooklyn Jamboree!" But instead I remained silent, afraid of ruining my credibility with the locals.
The best new song of the night for me was an old one -- a cover of Bill Anderson's song "Between Lust and Watching TV" (which Cal Smith recorded). A great exploration of the mundaneness of suburban marriage, Robbie introduced it by asserting that country music laid things like extra-marital sex much more out on the line during the 1970s and then looking around the room and saying, "Don't tell me that you guys have sex outside of marriage, too!"
It was another awesome evening of music. I'm almost ready to give up my day job in order to follow Robbie Fulks around the country. He's funny. He's got a great voice. And the guy can pick like a hedgehog operating a jigsaw -- by which I mean that he can pick like nobody's business.
The setlist looked like this:
- Goodbye, Virginia
- Push Right Over
- Waiting on These New Things to Go - hot pickin' on this one
- Georgia Hard
- I Like Being Left Alone
- Cigarette State - burnin'-like-a-Lucky-lit-with-a-flamethrower solos
- Tears Only Run One Way
- Guess I Got It Wrong
- Monroe's Hornpipe/Ain't Nobody Gonna Miss Me
- She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died)
- I Told Her Lies
- The Buck Starts Here
- Between Lust and Watching TV
- The World is Full of Pretty Girls (and Pretty Girls are Full of Themselves Too) - written for the late Jerry Reed
- Billie Jean - from Robbie's brand new album, Happy: Robbie Fulks Plays the Music of Michael Jackson
- Big Mon
- Let's Kill Saturday Night
- ENCORE: Country Boy Rock 'n' Roll - the Don Reno classic
- Goodbye, Cruel Girl