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High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

You Don't Bring Me Fruit, Flowers, Appliances, Ideas or Symbols Any More: Robbie Fulks' Year-End Wra

Snow all the way down home from 'Tosa and no lights on 294 tried to keep us from Fitzgerald's and Robbie's year-end show last night. Fools! Not even a full-fledged Mayan Apocalypse could have kept us away from our 4th Anniversary with the Half Man, Half Horse. Unfortunately, it DID leave my friend E standing alone at the bar for like 40 minutes . . .

E texted me upon her arrival to give us the heads up: Bill had removed ALL tables and seating for the night. When we were paying the cover, the door guy advised us that they were expecting a VERY full house indeed and suggested we check our coats. Despite lack of seating, E had secured the ideal place for leaning against the curve of the bar. She was also talking to a woman. Said woman:

  • was rocking an awesome 40s look,
  • had a rockin' skull bag after which I have often lusted in my heart (she reciprocated by lusting for my Lexie Barnes skull bag), and
  • turned out to be with the bass player for the Long Gone Lonesome Boys, who were once again opening!


Neither Fitzgerald's nor Robbie's websites noted that they were opening (or, indeed, that anyone was opening), so this was an extremely pleasant surprise. The place indeed began filling up early, putting to rest any fears that the weather would be keeping anyone away.

The LGLB got started just a few minutes after nine. Sadly, they were missing multi-instrumentalist master Pat Keiner, although they had a friend sitting in on the third harmony part (he was very good, but I didn't catch his name, alas. They opened

with "Small Batch Bourbon" (or "Small Batch Whiskey"?), which I thought was new. The ZK believed that he'd heard it before, but I don't see it on either of their current CDs. Next up (or soon after: they had a special on Blue Moon and I'm only human) was "I Go Commando," which John Milne announced is the title of their soon-to-be-released CD. AWESOME! For 12 months we have repeatedly lamented that there was no recorded version of this available (although I lucked out having heard John perform it solo at the Acoustic Explosion last January).

We also got "King of Beers," "Burning Blue" (a Patrick Penny song that apparently doesn't come up a lot on the iPod [I thought it was new as well]; loved it!), "Wasn't That A Day" (probably my favorite song of theirs, but I reserve judgment until I hear "Knifer Biker" live), "www.lonesome.com," and "I'm Sober and My Woman's True to Me." I'm probably missing a few (see above re: Blue Moon). The set was awesome, which was convenient for me, as I'd talked them up a great deal to E, and she was suitably impressed. The LGLB had a very good crowd (and many folks seemed to be familiar with them if not flat out there to see them), but the place did continue to fill in throughout the break.

Last year, you may recall, there was some unpleasantness at Robbie's year-end show. This year, the overall mood seemed more contented, and it seemed that most of the crowd knew that they were not in for a simple, straightforward Robbie show. In addition, though, it seemed as if Robbie and the band had scaled back the "bits." There was nothing on the year's music (which may be explained by this blog entry), and Robbie later revealed that someone who was supposed to be playing Michael Jackson had to drop out because he'd gotten a corporate gig, and apparently the good people at Walgreen's didn't think that the two performances were compatible.

The beginning of the set was front loaded with what seemed like more music, including "Tears Only Run One Way," "Mad at a Girl," "Georgia Hard," "Cigarette State," "Took a Lot of Pills and Died." Not sure which song ended the first part of the show, but Robbie thanked the crowd for the enthusiastic applause and warned them that they'd put their hands together for the last timeā€”for a while at least. Everyone except Gerald and Robbie beat feet offstage, and the two of them launched into "Rap of the Dead." Awesome as always, although Robbie seemed to struggle more early on than I recall in previous years. Superbonus points for working in "And Then There's Maude" this year.

The political satire was bookended by a wackidy-schmackidy-dooo musical theme "The Year that Everything Changed," which was kicked off by Mike, a delightfully squashy old man hat, and an honest-to-Baal corn cob pipe. It featured a seasonal set up for teabaggers (played by Donna and Beth Kathan) "Do You You Want Some Healthcare? (Yes, We Want Some Healthcare!)." The teabaggers' list of complaints provided the segue into a bit featuring Gerald as a recent immigrant to the US.

(I probably should raise an outcry against typecasting Gerald: Just because the man clearly has to shave out eye and nose holes from his lush facial hair, he shouldn't be doomed to such roles. I probably should do that, but damn, slap a newsy cap on the boy and he's an immigrant from Anyplace, Wide World.)

Robbie, in a lab coat and Buddy Holly glasses served as Gerald's immigrant guide in a number called "The Land of Unmerited Acclaim." Grant, as an AIG executive, Donna as Sarah Palin, and Beth as Paris Hilton helped Robbie to explain to our wide-eyed newcomer that "do" and "make" are really third world concepts.

Just when I was about to lean back to the ZK and say, "Paris Hilton jokes? Really?" Immigrant!Gerald said: "Paris Hilton jokes? Really?" Robbie then explained his fool-proof suburban comedy formula: One subtracts six months of time for every half mile outside of the city; thus, in Berwyn time, Paris Hilton is just now entering the LA county jail.

Robbie and Gerald continued to vamp on the theme of unmerited acclaim for . . . some time. Enough time, in fact, that Robbie had to hang a lantern on the length of time a certain costume change was taking. But it was all worth it when Beth emerged in an uncanny Michael Jackson costume to join Scott Ligon as Roman Polanski on a deeply, deeply wrong number called "We All Have a Child Inside." A number SO WRONG in fact, that this was certainly what caused everyone to leave the stage after Scott harangued Robbie for his cynicism about a year in which real change had been realized. (Of course, Gerald only left because he's a born follower.)

Via internal monologue, Robbie reflected on why he always goes too far. He ended by vowing to not dwell on THAT WAR, but instead to juice himself up to get invested in THIS WAR. It was at this point that the pinnacle of the show was reached with Grant in a metal!hair wig ROCKING THE FUCK out to "War Cry of the Moderates." Far before the end of it, I was in full-on Muttley mode, pounding the bar and trying to retain control of my Blue-Moon-filled bladder. (I'm sorry, but I overshare because I love.)

At this point, it was all over but the audience participation. In years past, the trivia game did tend to drag a bit. Robbie remedied that this year with a game called "Stump Scottie." Gerald wandered through the audience, calling on people to name a band, trying to find one that Scott Ligon would not be able to break into on the keyboards. I was rubbing my hands in glee when they threw a wrench into the works: Pre-1980.

The first couple attempts were weak (ELO, I think . . . and something equally obvious), next someone stumped him with X, which flabbergasted me. If he has that big a punk blindspot, I could have EASILY named a dozen bands. But the biggest fail came with Ready For the World. Bitch, please. "Oh Sheila," was sooooo post-1980. But the props were distributed to the winners, the review was wrapped up, and the band launched into the second half of the set.

This included "Goodbye, Cruel Girl" (I estimate that the opening held note exceeded 12 parsecs [yes, nerdlingers, I know]), "Can't Win For Losing You," "Busy Not Cryin'," and "Parallel Bars." Once again, "I Wanna Be Mama'd," was a phish-adjacent 15 minute jam. Last year, Chris Neville was made into Robbie's keyboard-playing monkey; this year, Scott Ligon had refused this role in an earlier song when Robbie demanded some Thelonious Monk. During "I Wanna Be Mama'd," though, he at last provided the Monk.

Robbie then called on Gerald for a solo. This was not ideally timed, as Gerald was playing with brushes and thus was hard to hear. The bar actually quieted down to near silence while Robbie handed out drumsticks to all the other band members. They then wandered the stage, using all available surfaces and objects as drums. This included their own microphones, which may have angered sound man. (Trust me when I say that you do not want to anger any sound man, but particularly not Fitzgerald's Sound Man.)

I'm not sure if it was before or after this that something dire was going on with Robbie's guitar. The middle basically dropped out of it, leaving a strange hole in his sound that reminded me of my burr coffee grinder. He then proceeded to break a string during, "Let's Kill Saturday night."

Obviously none of this impeded the end-of-show improv during the first encore. Scott Ligon immediately fled for the green room, and Mike was offstage because bassist Brett Simons had reunited with Robbie for an end of the year humbling. This left Gerald as the first victim, but Grant returned to get in on the action as well. And despite his recalcitrant guitar, Robbie he made a valiant attempt to start out "The Buck Starts Here," on Ligon's ukulele and produced something solo adjacent on it.

Bill was sending some seriously mixed signals after the first encore: The lights flicked on briefly, then were immediately dimmed to half. At one point we were sure that we heard the house music come on, but nonetheless, they pulled off Gordon Terry's "Lotta Lotta Women" for their final FINAL encore, during which the ukulele was further abused.

Great show, 100% less drama than last year. Rock star!

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