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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Creative Differences: Robbie Fulks' 2008 Wrap-up Show @ Fitzgeralds, Berwyn, IL

It is tempting to go with a write-up of this show comprising nothing more than my twitters from it, but as you know, brevity is not exactly my style. I will, however, BEGIN with those tweets in reverse order and the spoiler that we now know how Robbie got to be half man, half horse.


  • matildazq Spot @ center stage, but the crowd wants 7 more songs. Bill's been usurped by the guy going commando.
  • matildazq Bill F. has just pointedly directed the spot at the stage door. Cue encore aggression.
  • matildazq For the record: Robbie did not say cunt or pussy or beaver or snatch
  • matildazq Dear Jackass: Thanks not just for standing in front of us, but everyone with the band. Including the pregnant woman.
  • matildazq Just heard a genuine country band do an original called "Everywhere I Go I Go Commando."
  • matildazq May have to buy Men at work's Cargo. Had completely forgotten about Dr. Heckyl & Mr. Jive



As you can see, I started out the evening in a swell mood, enjoying my Scrubs-inspired Men at Work Renaissance.

We ate at Wishbone because it's hard to get more convenient and the food's not bad. At one point, the waiter came and plopped a "reserved" sign on the free-standing 4-top to our left. Shortly thereafter, another waiter was discussing the fact that they were apparently splitting a large group into that table plus another for 5. The two women in on this conversation didn't seem particularly happy, but then one was about 8 months pregnant, and it definitely seemed like happy (or at least comfortable) was a distant memory for her.

Eventually, they were moved from those tables to a larger table toward the windows, and were joined by the entire band. I saw Mike, Gerald, and Grant (why am I having a brane fart and repeatedly calling him Graham?), and M had to point out to me that Robbie had also just walked by:

Me: I totally didn't see him.
M: How could you not see him? He's 9 feet tall!
Me: I assume I mistook him for a structural post of some kind.

Although staying and gawking is always both fun AND good manners, we decided to head over to the club shortly thereafter. There weren't a ton of tables or stools, and most seemed occupied, so we headed against the back wall. M then spotted two open seats at the end of the table near the stage left bar, across from two women. He suggested my knitting would be a good opening to the argument for why we deserved these seats. Fortunately, simply asking if they were being reserved did the trick, and we settled down for the hour before the opening band, me to knitting, him to lusting after my Jesus phone, both of us occasionally engaging in pleasant conversation with our tablemates, who are also Old Town School students.

The Long Gone Lonesome Boys took the stage right around 9 PM. This is the third year we've seen the year-end show (or The Show Formerly Known as the New Year's Eve Eve Show and Even More Formerly Known as the Dress Rehearsal for the New Year's Eve Show), and the LGLB continue the trend, started by Dolly Varden and extended by the Possum Hollow Boys (who, hey! have a new CD out, which you can pick up at one of their shows and, soon, at CD Baby and on iTunes), of most excellent opening bands for the show.

Front man John Milne opened by introducing the concept of Robbie's wrap-up shows (oooh, another omen, as there would prove to be a troublesome number of people in the crowd who hadn't gotten their memos on that point). Their take on 2008, he said, was well represented by "How Can Hell Be Any Worse Than This?" This was followed by the now infamous "Goin' Commando," by which point we were pretty enthusiastically in love.

Songs like "Commando," "King of Beers" (It's got religion AND beer), and "It's Country Music for People Who Can't Stand Country," seem pretty clearly to be the brain children of Milne (he, after all, was the winner of the "Re-Do the Divas" contest), but Patrick Penny brings a very different, but equally twisted sensibility to the proceedings with songs like "Wasn't That a Day."

Collectively, the also seem to benefit from the It's-Not-A-Small-World-But-It's-A-Small-Bourgeois-Cliqué phenomenon: Possibly our favorite song of the set was written for the Chris Ligon/Heather McAdams "Li'l Country Calendar Show." The LGLB were assigned Buck Owens, and decided to write a little BuckPunk: A song that Buck might've written if the internet had been invented in 1959. The end result is the practically- perfect-in-every-way "www.lonesome.com".

The pause between the LGLB's set and the beginning of Robbie's show was brief enough, but in our little corner of the world, it saw some action in the form of Bill and minions bringing in a small, round table and some chairs for the several folks, including the very pregnant woman, we'd seen dining with the guys in the band. At one point, the woman closest to me bumped my foot with her chair and apologized profusely, telling me to let her know if she was in my way, then adding that she was trying to get a sight line to her husband (Grant, I'm assuming), at which point I told her that she should feel to shove MY ass out of HER way if needs be.

It is the way of shows that things fill in and what seems like a workable seat becomes nonworkable. Still. Last night seemed to be even more chock full of Stupidity + Narcissism = Shit Cock! than usual. For the first few songs (the irresistibly catchy "Never Could," "Cocktails," "Cigarette State") our little corner bobbed and weaved (wove?) to keep some kind of view of the stage. My conversational companion switched seats with the pregnant woman (I hate to keep calling her that, but . . .), who seemed to be attached to Gerald, and stood against the wall underneath this . . . thing . . . that had been looped over the light fixture. It was a kind of electrical box with buttons (looked like a control for a loading dock lift or something), and I assume that she continued to hit her head on it all night.

All our dreams were ended when the perfectly square individual at the table stage-ward of us decided to stand up. There he remained, unmoving and apparently wholly uninterested in the show, for the next. 3. hours. Thanks, dude. No, seriously, thanks.

Mand I gave up after about 2 songs' worth of staring at his giant back and headed for the back of the house to see if we could find anywhere with even a partial view of the stage. We wound up behind and to the right of the sound board. I'd like to add that we tried to be very careful not to step directly in front of anyone else, particularly those who were shorter than us. This clearly did not trouble the person who then stepped directly in front of us. But no matter, for the rest of the show, we had a fairly decent view of much of the stage and were only blocked occasionally by Bill manning the spotlight.

Not very long after we relocated, the show shifted over to its centerpiece: The 2008 break-down. Robbie began by asking who'd had a good 2008. It goes without saying that the denizens of the Acres refrained from applause but we were in the minority. Robbie informed the crowd that their enthusiasm for the year just ending was unfortunate, as that wasn't really the theme of the show.

The year in review is not possible without keyboards, so Robbie introduced Chris Neville of Tributosauras (replacing Scott Ligon on about 10 days' notice) before proceeding. Neville's presence was not only musically critical, it rounded out the political players: Chris as Oak Park Liberal, Gerald and Grant as moderate liberals, Robbie as the melancholy Republican, and Mike as the whacked out, conspiracy-theorist liberal. (Mike is the bass player, but I repeat myself.)

Oh, also Neville was key to the success of this part of the show because, as the newb, he got to wear the terrible wig and play John Edwards, nailing the first political "window song" of the evening. He was followed by Beth Kathan as Melissa Etheridge, who lamented that it was a good year for gay marriage until it wasn't. Robbie revealed himself . . .

. . . to be a Decent Citizen. Grant revealed himself . . .

. . . to be a God-Fearing American (I provide him with the hyphen he so sorely lacked).

The two of them paraded through the crowd with placards reading "No Nelly Nuptials," and similarly witty and endearing pro-Prop 8 slogans. I'm pretty sure that the unpleasantness that came next started around this time. I have a distinct memory of wanting to turn around and ask someone near me to shut the hell up so that I could watch Robbie have unholy, yet Biblical, knowledge of a stuffed horse in peace. (See, I promised you the origin story of Robbie "Half Man, Half Horse," and I delivered.)

But the Asshat really didn't come out to play until the extendo-song-o-rama about the election began. Robbie started by announcing that the band was about to dance and sing about their love for the great state of . . . no wait . . . that the band was about to do their tribute to the new President. From there, Robbie began a slow and obvious build-up to a celebration of President McCain. But Asshat couldn't be bothered to actually, you know, listen to or observe the performers. He was too busy proclaiming that we all need to "See what he can do" and pronouncing the whole thing "Pitiful."

After interrupting the ritual three times, Grant successfully informed Robbie that McCan had, in fact, lost the election. Robbie crankily informed him that this stuff takes MONTHS to write, and MONTHS MORE to memorize, so he often had to go with what seems most likely and ANYWAY nothing RHYMES with Obama! At Grant's insistence, though, he did eventually "improvise" a song for President HUSSEIN(obama).

Although Asshat observed LOUDLY and UNINTERRUPTEDLY that THE LIBERALS SEEM TO THINK THAT'S FUNNY and that Robbie is a LEFT-WING LIBERAL LOON, roughly 10 seconds later, when Donna came out dressed as Sarah Palin, he informed us all that if anyone mocked Obama (as, I will remind you, Robbie had for upwards of 2 minutes), they'd be accused of RACISM and this is all PITIFUL. Is this a SECOND CITY show? PITIFUL! LIBERALS! THINK THAT'S FUNNY!

Now, clearly, you might think that I am referring to this Asshat as Asshat because I am a liberal. I am. In fact, I am a Liberal. But I can assure you that even if he had been extolling the virtues of universal healthcare and a social safety net, I would have wanted him to shut the fuck up so that I could enjoy the band ripping off Sarah Palin's limbs and beating her with them as the sausage flew everywhere. (Ok, Stage Manager Og was professionally offended by the flying sausage and made increasingly anxious by Robbie's repeated references to it being on the monitors, lights, mic stands, etc., for the rest of the night.)

I was not alone in devoutly wishing that Brigadier General Asshat would hie himself away to a very sharp suppository tack made entirely of fire ants. By this point, everyone was shushing him so that we could enjoy the other band members driving Robbie off stage for a little liberal Calypso "We won!" number. Asshat was impervious to most of this and continued to inform us that he didn't think Obama could do ANYTHING and what LIBERALS FIND FUNNY.

At some point, his monologue turned into an increasingly angry dialogue with a nearby person. I didn't hear or see how it started. All I know is that the other person was QUIET and therefore clearly in the right. Both M and I were looking for Bill and/or the nearest exit when Asshat miraculously shut up and then seemed to decide that maybe this brand of country wasn't for him. I certainly hope he didn't get swallowed up by any of the many construction ditches bespeckling scenic Berwyn, IL.

Robbie returned to the stage accompanied by the "Typhoon Girls," for a jaunty little ditty about the year's crazy weather and other matters of geological and meterological WTFness. This time it was his turn to clear the stage with the immortal line "China is wetter than Lucy Liu's vagina," which was declared to be his usual failure to realize when he'd gone too far. Disgruntled member after disgruntled member trudged toward the green room, leaving only unoffended Gerald and the exchange immortalized above in Twitter.

As they explored, in depth, terms for Lucy Liu's bajingo that WOULD have been offensive, they contemplated what a humble guitarist and drummer could possibly do together. This, naturally, led into the Rap of the Dead, which was possibly rappier and deader than ever. Robbie DID manage to work both Eartha Kitt and Harold Pinter, and the whole band was summoned by the big finish with Bo Diddley.

But rousing revisitation gave way to a resurgence of melancholy, as Robbie, the lonely Republican, was moved to an honest attempt at prayer, despite his doubt that God was listening. With more reverb than is advisable in a structure erected in the 1920s, God forcefully assured Robbie that he listened. Mike might've gotten away with it, too, if he hadn't informed Robbie that he did not bring Robbie out of Egypt to clean up his stuff. Oh, and he wandered on the stage, too.

Grant and Chris helped to subdue Mike and pull the reverb away from him before someone lost a filling. They also told Robbie that they had, as a band, vowed to do SOMETHING to cheer him up, so they'd tried to unite his love for Cowboy Songs, Particle Physics, and . . . for the love of god, I cannot remember what the third thing was. AT ANY RATE, they'd booked Gerald the Science-Loving Cowboy, who rapped about the Large Hadron Collider.

I don't know if it was being near the back, the lingering stench of Asshat, or an unusually large number of people who had never seen the year-end show and were new enough to Robbie not to "get it," but there seemed to be a number of people who barely had patience for the musical send up of the year. When the on-stage, audience-participation trivia contest started, there was some substantial grumbling for more music. Speaking for myself, I thought the "bits" were as funny as in years past, but the trivia part did go on a bit too long.

For the most part, the crowd was happy to be won back by the second half of the set, which started with "Georgia Hard," and included "Rock Bottom, Population 1" "Can't Win for Losing You," "Let's Live Together," "Busy Not Crying," and "The Buck Starts Here." "I Wanna Be Mama'd" was forever transformed by a roughly 5-minute improvisational tour de force by Chris Neville who proved himself to be Robbie's monkey by undertaking the style of every pianist (including Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, and Keith Emerson) he shouted out. His plan to humiliate the newbie having backfired, Robbie later decided to pick on Grant, by challenging him to an impromptu, midsong acoustic versus electric steel cage death match.

Unsurprisingly, yet gratifyingly, the set ended with "Let's Kill Saturday Night." Robbie's attack on the song (and his guitar) was so enthusiastic that he killed a string before it was over. Just in case anyone was unclear on the encorial obligations, Bill got up on his stepladder and fixed the spotlight on the stage door. I've probably mixed the first encore's songs into the set above, because I can't recall what the two songs they did were.

The second encore (oh yes, Mr. Fulks, Mr. Fitzgerald would be DELIGHTED to host you for a second encore) is forever enshrined in memory because the first part of it was an extended, improvised Doo-Wop number that, in part, celebrated Robbie and Grant's 10-year anniversary of their first terrifying night of clown sex. Other highlights included Chris Neville crooning that Doo-Wop improvisation was not part of the deal. The FINAL final song of the night was suggested by none other than John Milne, who temporarily usurped Bill as the Encore Enforcer by reminding the crowd that they had not yet heard "She Took a Lotta Pills and Died."

As is the way with Robbie, afterward I thought of songs I'd missed hearing (notably "Mad at a Girl," and "Every Kind of Music but Country"). And after this year's Hide Out Block Party, I'll always feel a little cheated if there's no Zombie dance, but it was a great show and IMPORTANT secrets were REVEALED!

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6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was a great exchange during the piano challenge that went something like this:

Robbie: "Dave Brubeck!"
[Chris plays Brubeck style]
Robbie: "Well that was the least interesting one yet"
Chris: "You asked for Brubeck"
Robbie: "I meant 30-year-old Brubeck not 80-year-old Brubeck"

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great review of a wonderful show!

Seriously - anyone who would think Robbie's schtick was a serious political commentary geared toward liberals has to be a complete fool. Why do people have to be such "asshats" when out in public? Astounding.

I thought the satire was every bit as funny as anything I've seen at Second City (and I like Second City), but with music!

As for the songs I missed, "I Push Right Over" and "Nickles and Dimes" stand out, but I guess that's a tribute to Robbie's ever-expanding catalogue.

Thanks again for this review.

4:20 PM  
Blogger Matilda said...

Thanks for the kind words, and I'm glad you enjoyed the review. As for the Asshat, I have no explanation! I don't know what Robbie's politics are, and I don't care. I imagine the Fitzgerald's crowd as good a cross-section of America as you're going to get and most of us were united in NOT having come to listen to Asshat!

7:51 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Nicely done Matilda. I looked forward to this show all year after catching it the previous two years, but ended up out of town visiting family for the holidays. Was hoping for December 30 as in the past. Between the music and the hijinks and the usual Fitzgeralds/Robbie crowd, one would have to be a real shitwheel to not enjoy it. In past years I brought friends that had not heard of Robbie and all became instant converts. Sorry to miss it this year - thanks for the full report.

10:38 PM  
Blogger John said...

I know this is late, but someone just sent me the link to this... and at the risk of being anal, the line was "it's wetter in China than Lucy Liu's vagina" gotta get that rhyme. Also, his loves were country music, cowboys and particle physics.

Sorry to hear about your seating troubles, being the dork I am, I always get to shows early to get close to the stage and, though it wasn't as bad up there, we did have to deal with an annoyingly/belligerently drunk 50 year old middle manager who kept treating the place like a frat house, even after the owner shushed him.

Either way, great stuff. The only thing I'd ever seen like this was Heather's country showcase last January and this blew me away. Can't wait to go again next year.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Matilda said...

John: You are so very right about the line, which I can't believe I rendered so very poorly. (However, much of the googleverse is rendering just as poorly as I did, as I get an amazing number of hits on that phrase!)

Sorry to hear that there was some general asshattery up in your neck of Fitzgerald's, too1

5:41 PM  

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