with Pinetop 7
Star Bar, Atlanta • September 24, 1998
Robbie Fulks is one goofy, cloud-scraping hayseed. At least that’s what he wants ya to think. Country legend Roger Miller did the same thing. For every “Dang Me” he unleashed on the world, there was a “King of the Road,” songs that showed the depth and soul behind the wisecracking clown. Robbie Fulks reminds you of an Alt-Country rock and roll version of Miller. Sure, he sings tunes like “I Told Her Lies” or “Cigarette State,” an ode to North Carolina’s gift to the world — performed with a lit Marlboro wedged in his nose, but like Miller, he can follow it up with a song that is so sharp, so true that it makes you gasp, like the graveyard lament of a fallen Southerner in “Cold Statesville Ground,” from his 1997 Bloodshot release South Mouth.
Robbie Fulks live is like watching a hyperactive kid at play. Easily over 6 feet tall, his head threatened to scrape the Star Bar ceiling as he bounced around the tiny stage, clearly having a ball. Backed up by a great band, Fulks started the evening electric, playing a puke green Telecaster that clashed appallingly with his dark green shirt. He led off playing songs from his debut Geffen release, Let’s Kill Saturday Night, and the songs from his major label introduction didn’t fare as well as the material he recorded for his two Bloodshot releases, Country Love Songs and South Mouth. As a rock and roller, Fulks is just another guy with a guitar. As a country singer, however, he may be the genre’s saving grace. Since his debut on a Bloodshot compilation a while back, he’s written a careers worth of great songs in a few years. The best song off the new album — the driving title cut — was actually written by Fulks years ago and recorded first by New York’s Five Chinese Brothers.
Fulks is a clever wordsmith, such as on “Goodbye, Good-Lookin” — “Well it’s hard to tell what’s on an angels mind, but a suitcase means the same thing every time.” But he can just as easily turn sharp — unapologetically so. He forewarned the Star Bar crowd “That the next song likely will offend some folks, and if anybody wants to leave, go ahead. It’s happened before.” He then launched into “God Isn’t Real,” a scathing tune that I can’t believe he got released on a major label. Taking to task the people he feels invented faith as a means of explaining an ugly world that they don’t want the responsibility for; the song is brutal. While I wasn’t offended by any means, it was an uncomfortable moment, an event that doesn’t happen often in music these days, much less at a show by a self-proclaimed “country goofus.”
The show was opened by Pinetop 7, a group out of Chicago whose unique sound (guitars, standup bass, drums, and vibes) was soothing and unsettling at the same time. Someone remarked that they sounded as though their mothers had eaten Quaaludes and listened to Led Zep and Yes while they were in the womb. I thought it surf music for the river Styx. Either way, they were interesting.
Fulks is an incredible songwriter, a great live performer, and it’s a shame the place was only half full. By the time he ended the evening with his tale of a has-been movie queen, “She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died),” sweat was dripping off the front of his old Martin six-string and Fulks had sung himself dang near hoarse. If you get a chance, check out Robbie Fulks either live or on record (start with the Bloodshot stuff first). I betcha have a ball.