in no mood to listen to Robbie Fulks. Don't get me wrong: Fulks'
tongue-in-cheek take on traditional country aesthetics and values is something
I enjoy, but it's hard to get yourself pumped up for a Monday night concert
when the last thing you've been listening to is anything but country.
Thankfully Robbie Fulks didn't play a single country tune, or any alt-country
tunes; the man and his tight backing band played rock and roll with a healthy
side of twang to compliment the main course of wit.
If you're not from Seattle and/or you've never been to the Tractor Tavern, you
can probably imagine the place's décor just by name alone. This particular
Monday evening the atmosphere was just a little more electric and unlike its
barn roots. Perhaps it was the older crowd and their enthusiasm wafting over
the joint, or it could have been that Robbie Fulks is a man that no
preconceived image can contain. To look at the him, you wouldn't expect
country-inflected music from such a man or his backing ensemble. Fulks is a
man above image.
From the first words of show opener "She Took A Lot of Pill (And Died)," you'd
immediately recognize that biting sarcasm from the indie world. Not only is
the song a shining example of many of Robbie's tracks, it's also a raucous and
rowdy anthem that cowboys and hipsters alike can love. The marriage between
the world of country and indie would become the theme of the evening. Unafraid
to explore his catalogue, Fulks and company ripped through dozens of tracks
with vigor. Whether it was the boot-scoot of "Rock Bottom, Population 1," the
fool's tale of "I Told Her Lies," or the honesty of "Mad at a Girl," Fulks
delivered it all with zeal. He had the crowd eating out of his palm, and much
like me, fans showing signs of not quite being in the mood were quickly
brought into the fold. It was only a matter of time before foot tapping, head
bobbing and full-blown dancing was taking place. The Tractor Tavern was
quickly turning into a barn dance even if most of the participants were weary.
The highlight of the evening came during "I Want to Be Mama'd," which saw the
entire band take solos. Usually tedious to endure, the band was tight and
inventive. There was no slack-jawed bass line, no color-by-numbers country
guitar solo, or country death song drum fills. The track was bits and pieces
of rock, soul and jazz. As the song devolved into chaos, it even began to
resemble free-folk. Robbie was doing Akron/Family fans proud with spastic folk
plucking and impromptu lyrics about his son's former high school teacher (who
was in attendance).
The reality of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks. No wonder Robbie
Fulks will never get the big break he deserves. He's not country, he's not
rock, and he's uncompromising. That's why he draws music nerds and working men
and women into his shows. It's a spectacle without strobes and lasers. All
Fulks has — genuineness — is all he needs to entertain.