coming up at SPACE...

I'll be visiting the already-venerable Evanston club on October 15, with a one-of-a-kind show that I'm very excited about. One reason it's a little out of the ordinary is that I'll be doing my own songs, and, crazy as this is, it's gotten so that I mainly perform my album material out of town anymore, only focusing hard on it when I'm promoting a new release at Old Town School or Fitzgeralds. The weekly lab at Hideout, the end-of-year revues at Fitzgeralds, the SPACE collaborations with Jenny Scheinman and Redd Volkaert -- it's been a blast, but the pendulum has swung too far, folks. Its overdue that I'm ending the Hideout residency and the Fitzgeralds series, because I need to be presenting my own work. It's the thing that I'm supposed to be doing! The rest is a fun distraction -- okay, tons of fun.

So at SPACE I'll be playing, in near-equal proportion, stuff from Upland Stories, music from my old records, and new/unrecorded songs. But that's only the half of it; why I'm especially keen on the SPACE play is the players. Duke Levine has long been a friend and an object of admiration for me; but because he lives in Boston, I seldom get to play with him, and never in my hometown. On the 15th we'll fix that. If you've never experienced him through his records -- his grace and fluidity, his majestic tone, and his speed -- then get ready to be dazzled. (And if you've seen him only at his longtime gig with Peter Wolf, you still probably don't know his scope.)

And check out the rest of the roster: Nora O'Connor, Scott Ligon (you don't get to see Scotty play B3 enough!), Todd Phillips, and Alex Hall. Here's a fantastic, heavy-thinking sextet that's never played together before and in all likelihood never shall afterward, and I'm fairly delirious to see what shape my songs will take in their hands. It's 2/3rds sold out at this point so I wanted to do the town crier thing.

this monday at the hideout

I met Linda Gail Lewis when we were working for the same promoter in Sweden some years back. The promoter was a good guy but the work was grueling. His artists were housed in a large warehouse on the industrial outskirts of a little paper-mill town, a barbed-wire-enclosed metal shed that also housed a couple acres of music gear, tour buses of various sizes, and some mice. The best aspect of staying there was meeting the people in the adjoining rooms. You'd stumble in at 2AM and bump into some ghostly figure from the 1970s on your way to the whiskey cabinet. The hallways were heavy with physical fatigue, thwarted ambition, and musical skill in genres that were perpetually marginal or simply outmoded. Boogie-woogie shouters, decrepit pub rock reptiles, Texas bluesmen, English guitarists, myself.

The most magnetic person I connected with there was Linda. I'm a fan of her and her amazing family and I felt at home instantly, hanging with her and her daughter Annie. Linda invited me to sing and play on a record she was making at a nifty little studio down the road from the shed. The song was a simple country duet, and the players were working one at a time with headphones, over the rhythm track. Linda sat at a digital keyboard in the control room just behind the console. I was sitting on a couch with Billy Bremner and Annie, watching her overdub her solo. Her playing put you in mind of a cottonfield with a candelabra in it. It was rooted in a strange and soul-bruising and bygone place -- 1940s Louisiana -- and it wasn't very fancy, but it was spruced up with the sort of timefeel and intuitive touches that could only come from a happy, good-humored heart. To use an overused word: authentic. She closed her solo with an aggressively Lewisian glissando which swung her whole frame, as her hand moved from right to left across the keyboard, around on the bench and facing Billy and me. With the record button still lit, she laughed at us and her and her solo. I was hooked!

I played a guitar break on that tune and put on a vocal, I think it was a baritone. The lyrics were handwritten by Linda in blue pen, in neat cursive, on Best Western stationery. I think she wrote it the night before. Leaving the session, I put it in my guitar case, where it sits still, although my dog chewed it up a little one time back when she was a puppy. In the few years to follow I got a couple more chances to record and to work live with Linda Gail, and her cheery temperament and Southern courtesies elevated the circumstances each time. On my last swing through Sweden, which was two years ago and three years into my friendship with LGL, I started to get the idea of producing a record on her, and I pitched it initially through Annie. I was so happy when Linda accepted, and I got to work putting the pieces into place at once. Tomorrow is the first session on our record, and when we're done, we're all (Linda, Annie, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough, and Alex Hall) popping over to the Hideout to blast out some rock-and-roll.

One thing I like about Linda's shows and that I think you should know is that they're unscripted. She shouts a title, you watch where her left hand hits the root of the opening chord, and away you go. It's not wizardry, but it's really fun (when everyone knows the same repertoire and how to work off the cuff).

fake facebook

We think we fixed the imposter account that was sending out the weird messages. If you get a weird message from this point on please let me know, and if you got a weird message, then I'm sorry -- but you're still beautiful, and I still need money...

this monday at the hideout

I Heart Cheap Trick! I'm no expert on rock music. I don't even really like most of it all that much, though I guess I could say the same about country. Anyway, for my money, the boys from Rockford IL are the shit. I'd rather listen to them than the Rolling Stones or the Who or Bruce Springsteen or et cetera et cetera, and though that's an opinion, I'll back it up. This group offers consistent rewards in its balance of interesting oppositions. The writing (specifically: hooks, melodies, and progressions) and arranging display cleverness, aspirational diligence, and clear formal skill, whereas the presentation of keyboardless ear-splitting guitar quartet -- or much of the time, essentially power trio -- brings it off of the page with minimalist animal vigor. Within each song there's equal affection for sweet major and natural-minor scales; I can't bring to mind a single one of their songs that doesn't deliberately offset both somewhere in its progressions. It means, in a rough emotional translation, that nothing in their catalog sounds 100% hard or soft. Another thing I can't bring to mind is another group that so consistently offsets cock-and-balls with comedy. Even the stylized look of the quartet stresses this weird juxtaposition, with the two you want to go to bed with and the two you want to go to lunch with.

Robin Zander is something else as a singer. His stratospheric range, his easeful sounding control, his ability at all levels of intensity from croon to shredding scream, and his interpretive imagination rank him with Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant, and I can't think of who else. You tell me, I'm no rock expert like I told you. I do know hardly anybody can sing like that, even fewer past the age of about 35.

As for Rick's guitar playing, what makes it stand out for me, in a very crowded field of electric guitar badasses, is clarity. His riffs and most of his solos are mini-compositions embedded in and complementary to the main one going on. Not a ton of noodling.

In most of these songs, there are four distinct sections. For instance, in "Downed," there's the I/VII/b6/VII bassline figure (alternated, a little gratuitously in my opinion, with I/VII/VI/b6) over the chorus ("Downed....over my head"). That's one. The second is the verse where the chords change twice as fast, the third is a post-verse figure ("Oooh you think you're Jesus Christ") that starts on the V chord, and the fourth section is the power-rock guitar figure that pops up in the middle. In "I Want You To Want Me," the four sections aren't as dissimilar. There's the chorus, the verse (the changes happening 4x as quickly, once a bar), the "Didn't I didn't I" section -- I don't know what this might be called but it's like an alternate chorus, and definitely as catchy as the song's proper chorus -- with changes every 2 bars, and the intro/outro guitar riff, which is four bars of I, a split bar of VII and IV and capping with two more bars of A or I. This is the least-memorable and most tacked-on-feeling part of the song but it allows the VII -- the cock/balls -- a higher profile in the tune than its fairly brief appearance in the verse -- and it satisfies the rule of four.

The goal of the writing, in these two examples and in general, is to balance the soft/hard of the two scales, to balance the lengths with which chords are sustained, to have sections that play off against each other with contrast and an acceptable amount of unpredictability, to frame the song in an arrangement that proceeds linearly to subtly complexify and, again, to set up and gently tweak expectations, and to hit the listener with the usual stuff as well -- singability, hooks, emotional drama. If you listen critically to "Downed" and "I Want You To Want Me" side by side, you may agree with me that the latter achieves, by a method that goes to the minimal edge of complexity by this group's standards, resounding success, while "Downed" falls a little short, in large part because the one-time-only power riff, which takes the song into both another flavor and key, sounds imported from a different composition. Both killer songs in smart arrangements, though. 

In rock music, commercial muscle matters, and so a factor that often comes up in discussing this group, and one that I'll admit endears them to me, is what appears as an imbalance between their sales and their wild talent and seeming accessibility. For some reason they didn't rock the charts like Abba, or drive the chattering rockist peabrains into ejaculatory raptures such as Led Zeppelin did and does. Oh well. I think it's safe to say that their confidence in indulging a predilection for goofiness and comic irony must have had the usual effect -- inviting the large plurality of the humor-impaired to deem them unserious and turn away. Another way they seem to have made both themselves and myself happy is to have ventured musically wherever they could and wanted to venture within their instrumental confines: sweet Beatle-y pop, AC/DC snarl, prog, something close to traditional rock-and-roll, and whatever category "Dream Police" might fall into. In the 1970s, when Bob Dylan and Neil Young were annually moulting, this wasn't such a crazy way to go; but then as now, it's not a strategy for the risk-averse or the capitalistically canny. Ultimately and always, reasons aren't needed to explain where an act falls on the spectrum of financial or reputational attainment -- for always, dumb luck, in concert with economically motivated actions and events obscure to us outside the circle of actors, plays the leading role.

I got Heaven Tonight when it came out in 1978 from the public library, attracted by the cover art and the attractive appearance of two of the cover figures -- I mean the two I'd like to lunch with. Some of the songs landed solidly enough in my skull that I had no need to hear them again after the three-week loan had expired. "Surrender" and "On Top of The World" I can sing by heart and play almost 40 years later without returning to the record because they're so splendidly written (and performed in-studio). I'm inviting catastrophic embarrassment by claiming that on the eve of a cover performance, of course, but we'll see. One thing about "Surrender" I think may have registered with my 15-year-old self is the rhyming and non-rhyming. The first verse and chorus have zero rhymes. That's over the course of 27 bars -- a lot of lyric not to be cozily chiming together. The effect is attention-getting ("you never know what you'll catch") but the means are subtle, and I'm not really sure why it works so well. The second verse has a near-rhyme (things/Philippines) and another non-rhyme (war/years), and the third lapses into what passes in rock music for plain old rhymes (year/disappear, couch/out). So the song develops toward a sort of normalcy as it goes, an unusual journey. I don't believe words are Cheap Trick's strongest suit, but audacity served them well.

I can't resist adding a personal footnote: I played in a little room in Rockford last year with Don Stiernberg, and Bun E. Carlos was in the crowd. Afterward, he bought all of my titles at the merchandise table. All of them. (And insisted on paying, over my strong objections.) I was humbled. I hope he liked something he bought, and hope I might run into him again when I return to the same place next month! And who knows, maybe lunch.

this monday at the hideout

Durned if it isn't this-Monday-at-the-Hideout time again. This time, with a team of sax/guitar (Jake Crowe), drumkit (G Dowd), string bass (Pat Williams), keys (Scott Stevenson, who else), trumpet/violin (Anna Jacobson), and, with any luck, a little guest trombone (Evan Jacobson, no relation), we'll delicately explore the classic theme of Miles Davis vs. Merle Travis. Sixteen tons...of heroin!!

this monday at the hideout

A night of Everly Brothers music, faithful to the original recorded arrangements, since they're untoppable and the songs are pretty well unimaginable removed from fundamentals such as opening guitar-banging motif and vocal harmony arrangement. Okay, there may be one or two solos added. It's nice hearing solos now and then. Naturally Steve Frisbie will be there, in the Don role, and besides Steve, Scott Stevenson, Larry Kohut, Gerald Dowd, and Robbie Gjersoe. One of the pleasures of singing this music the last few days, by the way,  is using "date" as a euphemism for teen sex. So join us for this date won't you?

this monday at the hideout

I continue the long residency wrap-up by revisiting favorite friends and themes. This Monday it's those old roustabouts The Hoyle Brothers, minus Miles and Lance, but with their ace pilot-gunner team of Steve 'n' Brian on guitar 'n' steel. About half of our set will be patriotic country. (Clunky code word for "unabashed, blood-in-the-eyes jingoism.") The other half will be...just country.

this monday at the hideout

As elaborate in its conception as it is ill-advised in its undertaking: Lollapalouis! Lucky spectators will run a superbly entertaining gamut of Louises/Lewises from the mid-20th c. to the present day, in a program tenderly curated by Gerald Dowd, Brian Wilkie, Casey McDonough, and myself. Jerry Lee Lewis, for example. Louis Untermeyer, for another example. There will be Louis/Lewis prizes given, and anyone who can prove his or her (let's not forget Rilo Kiley's Jenny!) name is really Lewis, or Louis, will be admitted free.

south by southwest

First, just to really drill it in, the Guitar World site has a song off Upland Stories (out April 1)

...and Funny or Die has a weird thing I did at Bob Odenkirk's house in January, also to promote the record

Which is funnier?

Second, I'll be back at the dreaded Austin conference next week. There's lots of shows.

Tuesday: Backstage at El Mercado, 5P. Alone.

Wednesday: Gingerman, 4P. Quintet. Swan Dive, 8P, sextet.

Thursday: Broken Spoke, 1P. Sextet. Victorian Room at Driskill Hotel, midnight. Quintet.

Friday: Yard Dog, 1:30P. Sextet. Flatstock, 5:30P, duo.

Saturday: Brooklyn Country Cantina at Licha's, 1:30. Duo, maybe trio. Hyatt lobby, 7P. Alone.

Seems like a lot, but believe it or not, I'll probably be doing some other stuff here and there too as I bop around town and visit friends. Among the people playing my songs (including several from the new one) will be Shad Cobb, Tommy Detamore, Dallas Wayne, Kevin Smith, Dave Sanger, Brennen Leigh, and Josh Kantor, the fabled organist from Fenway Park, who also plays accordion.

this monday at the hideout

Two things, kind of separate. First, I'll be filming a little promo stuff for my next record, Upland Stories. It'll be me with my guitar, plunking through 4 or 5 tunes and talking about them as space aliens with spherical cameras for heads flit sinisterly about the room in a half-crouch -- fun!

Then, the real show, which is me and three of my friends (though I would never advertise it that way, the way they always do, "Robbie Fulks and Friends," because what kind of moron gets wet about that? "Get this -- for only ten dollars we get to see not only the great Robbie Fulks, but a couple of his friends! I bet his friends are something else! It's going to be such a friendly show...I know how much I love my own friends, and I'll bet anything that I'll form a similar attachment to Robbie's friends, who are perhaps even more musically talented than my own!"). The names of my friends are Gerald Dowd, Liam Davis, and K.C. McDonough, and we're going to bash through about 15 Alex Chilton tunes. Big Star, Box Tops, later Alex, love it all, I'm just that old.

The first thing, the video promo thing, is limited seating and advance tickets and sold out, so forget about that. It's due to start at 7 and end at 7:40, and I really don't think that's unrealistic. So if you get there at the usual a-bit-past-seven and are sad or pissed-off that a flunky will be denying you entrance to the music room, just "smoke some dope," as we used to say back when Alex Chilton was living, and wait for 7:40 to roll around, and walk in the fucking room.

this monday at the hideout

It's my final Hideout get-together with my friend Justin Roberts. Justin's music for children is celebrated across the Anglosphere, but we'll be doing mostly music for mature, if not clinically depressed, persons. We'll be joined by Anna Steinhoff and Matt Brown, who'll make a pared-down hipster string section for us on cello and violin.

this monday at the hideout

Jim + Rob Show, starring Jim DeWan. Enjoy the chef, Tribune food writer, and knife-book author reliving his early 1990s incarnation as a twitchy cabaret comic diva. Slated: flatpicking, songs-of-the-month new and old, swing, Irish, beloved Jim DeWan original ballads such as "Hitler and Jesus," and assorted gimlet snarkery in the key of B-serious.

this monday at the hideout

It's an evening of Sondheim favorites this Monday, as the curvaceously imperial and dauntingly Stritch-esque divas Keely Vasquez and Bethany Thomas, pianist Scott Stevenson, and rude fuck Jon Langford join yours truly for an adventure in exquisite lyrical craft and utter musical confusion. Fans of Assassins and Sunday In The Park With George will not be disappointed; many, many others likely will be.

the new look

From the Russian Tea Room to the Trump Tower! What a snazzy makeover we've gotten here at the worldwide. The friendly navigational tools are sure to make blog-reading and record-shopping like falling off a log. The magnificent (except for the subject) photos taken by Andy Goodwin provide an environmental hue so warm and deep and cozy, you'll be tempted to bring your business partners here to butter them up and shoot them. Many thanks to Mike Sosin of the fledgling "Bloodshot" record label of Chicago, Ill. for bringing this website to life and ignoring all helpful input. Be sure to let us know what you think! We can't wait to ignore you.

this monday at the hideout

High Plains Jamboree is the group name for Brennen Leigh, her husband Noel McKay, fiddler Beth Chrisman, and a bassist I know only as Simon. Brennen's one of my faves. You might remember her from a show we did at the Hideout last year. She sang sweet country duets with both me and Noel, showed off her songwriting chops, and picked tasty bluegrass mandolin.

Read More