V-Roys / Robbie Fulks – Schuba’s (Chicago, IL)
A honky-tonker who plays a Bakersfield brand of country, Chicago songwriter Robbie Fulks was backed for this show by a fantastic supporting cast: Tuey Connell (guitar/banjo), Mark Edelstein (standup bass) and Dan Massey (drums). Whether they were playing a number from Fulks’ debut CD Country Love Songs, one of his numerous other originals, or a classic country cover the stellar band displayed an intimate knowledge of the genre Fulks lovingly calls “hillbilly music.” And the crowd loved it, enthusiastically applauding throughout the 22-song set.
The CD tracks “Let’s Live Together”, “The Buck Starts Here” and “(I Love) Nickels and Dimes” were all performed with verve as Fulks hopped around the stage, joyously strumming his acoustic guitar. A prolific songwriter, Fulks may already have enough material for a strong follow-up album. The set included several fine songs that haven’t been released yet, including “Fuck This Town”, an ode to Nashville. Virtuoso banjo picker Connell really cut loose on this number, adding a jazzy solo that proved why he’s one of Chicago’s most respected musicians. Fulks altered the song’s lyrics to name-check a couple of Nashville acts that he admires — Tim Carroll and BR5-49.
Another high point was “Love Ain’t Nothin'”, which was introduced as a song “for the over-30 set.” “Eggs Are Good” had the crowd laughing and comically groaning at the pun-filled lyrics about the “eggstasy” of eating “Grade A, extra large, fuel-injected, supercharged eggs.”
Fulks is not only a witty songwriter but also a talented vocalist, as evidenced by his treatment of two Merle Haggard tunes. On “Sing A Sad Song”, his yearning, lonesome vocals wrung every drop of emotion out the lyrics, and he absolutely nailed the song’s final high note. “Silver Wings” was equally tender, as gentle picking and heartfelt singing filled the room. Hag himself would’ve been impressed.
Fulks played a handful of solo numbers, and shared the spotlight. He brought guest vocalist Ora Jones onstage for a few duets, including a spirited version of “We’ll Burn Together”. Edelstein sang lead on “I’ll Go Steppin’, Too”, and the band performed an instrumental that allowed each musician to shine.
The show concluded with “She Took a Lot of Pills (And Died)”, a track on the Bloodshot Records compilation Hell-Bent: Insurgent Country Volume 2. Fulks joked that several artists had covered the song, including James Taylor and (the late) Johnny Thunders. Fulks sang the first two verses in a voice that was a frighteningly accurate imitation of Taylor’s laid-back croon. After the audience had gotten a good hoot out of it, he started the song over and sang it straight. The breadth of this performance showed Fulks to be a versatile showman who can make a crowd laugh out loud, shed some tears, break into a boot-scootin’ boogie, or stand motionless while listening intently.
Wearing their trademark suits and ties, Knoxville, Tenn., band V-Roys opened with a smokin’ cover of Roger Miller’s “I Ain’t Comin’ Home Tonight”. Their set included nearly every cut on their debut CD Just Add Ice, and even though the songs were very faithful to the recorded versions, most had a bit rawer edge.
The slower numbers came off particularly well. During the mournful “Lie I Believe”, drummer Jeff Bills’ cymbals and Paxton Sellers’s rumbling bass built a musical tension that led to a crescendo as guitarist Scott Miller passionately sang, “But if you stand naked, the mirror won’t lie/But it has to be filtered through the wish of an eye/And all that I needed was your reflection of me/You said I was someone/It’s a lie I believe”. Another tear-jerker, “Kick Me Around”, also gradually gained momentum before reaching a musical and emotional climax.
The slower material smoldered, but the fast songs crackled with energy. Guitarist Mike Harrison sang lead on “No Regrets”, a tasty piece of pop perfection. The new tune “Amy 88”, a rock workout that featured a dollop of distortion from Miller, segued into a powerful version of “Wind Down”. It was a surprisingly raucous ending to the set, and although there was no encore, many in the audience were hungry for more.