Robbie Fulks | Lincoln Hall | Folk & Country | Chicago Reader

Robbie Fulks Recommended Soundboard Critics' Picks

When: Fri., March 18, 9 p.m. 2011

This release party for Happy: Robbie Fulks Plays the Music of Michael Jackson has been a long time coming. Fulks cut most of the record in 2005, then shelved it when the King of Pop was embroiled in a second child-molestation scandal. By that point some of Fulks's Jackson covers had become live staples—particularly a wrenching take on "Billie Jean" that's touched with Latin swing and chilly twang—and in 2008 he stole the show at the Hideout Block Party with an all-Jacko extravaganza whose "Thriller" included a crowd of zombies dancing in front of the stage and a cameo from rapper Rhymefest. After Jackson died, Fulks cut more songs, and last year he finally self-released the album. Despite the liberties he takes with some of the material, it's an earnest tribute—with the exception of "Privacy," which he's transformed into a bizarre psychodrama that tweaks Jackson's grandiose paranoia with a convulsive patchwork of artsy noise rock (ringers for that cut include Azita on vocals and Bob Weston and Todd Trainer of Shellac on bass and drums). Fulks plays some tunes straight, like the Jackson Five classic "Mama's Pearl," and reimagines others: "Goin' Back to Indiana" becomes a country blues, "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" a prog-bluegrass burner with banjoist Tony Trischka. The stylistic leaps can be jarring, but for the most part they just prove how strong and malleable these songs are. For this show Fulks's band (guitarist Grant Tye, drummer Gerald Dowd, and bassist Mike Fredrickson) will have help from keyboardist Chris Neville, and singer Nora O'Connor and mandolinist-fiddler Don Stiernberg will guest. Expect plenty of showmanship: among other things, Fulks says he's hoping to involve puppets ("like the purple 'Ben' rat from the Hideout block party and the Lady Di in the flowing white dress"), child actors in pajamas, video projection, and "the highly unflattering Jackson Five costumes my wife made for my even-then-middle-aged sidemen ten years ago." His young son Preston will sing one of the ballads—because, as he puts it, "an earnest kid singing MJ songs is for some reason very moving." This is probably your last chance to hear Fulks play this music, so don't skip it lightly: "After the night ends," he says, "I think I can safely say I'll never do anything having to do with Michael Jackson again!" —Peter Margasak

Price: $15

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