He's revered as an alt-country cornerstone, but Robbie Fulks has always looked backward for inspiration, even modeling his latest record on Nashville legends like Don Williams, Charlie Rich and Tom T. Hall. There wasn't much chance of Fulks reproducing the sweep of "Georgia Hard" at Jammin Java in Vienna on Saturday night, though, since he appeared with only an acoustic guitar for accompaniment. His voice and sharp wit were enough, however, to make his two-hour set thoroughly enjoyable and pretty hilarious as well.
Humor drew the night's biggest roars, in songs like "Countrier Than Thou," "I Told Her Lies" or Jimmie Logsdon's "I Wanna Be Mama'd" or in shouting out his own name to take a guitar solo. But the laughs didn't overshadow Fulks's ability to sketch the human condition in songs that deserve a place alongside those he models. From the devastating "Barely Human" to "In Bristol Town One Bright Day" to "Tears Only Run One Way," he sang with an understanding of heartsickness few contemporary vocalists can muster. And since no Fulks gig would be complete without a zany cover, he tore up a Cher hit, "Believe," with a gusto that was both comic and slightly stunning.
-- Patrick Foster
Stooges Music Group
Songcraft is often enhanced by using fewer notes rather than more. Friday night at a packed 9:30 club, the Stooges Music Group (formerly Stooges Brass Band) and Galactic had intermittent success in following this approach. In the first of two "9:30 in New Orleans" nights put together by Galactic, these Crescent City acts occasionally stumbled with fussy technique.
Where the Stooges once kept parades and funeral processions moving with nonstop brass honking over polyrhythmic percussion, at the 9:30 the group varied its repertoire with too-smooth jazz-fusion flourishes and busy rapped verses, trickery lacking in vitality. The septet, which regrouped in Atlanta after Hurricane Katrina, delivered its old charm on straight-ahead numbers like "Stooges Party," with joyful conga beats and warm trumpet tones driving the tempos. The evening took a poignant turn with the new cut "We Still Alive."
Headliner Galactic, a jam band that also had to leave New Orleans, let the music do the talking. Influenced by the Meters and organist Jimmy Smith, this sax- and guitar-led group started as an instrumental outfit, later added a vocalist and is again an instrumental band. Not as funky as their idols, this five-piece ensemble stretched out every song with self-indulgent '70s rock noodling and unimaginative grooves. The set briefly came to life when guest keyboardist Ivan Neville and members of the Stooges joined in.
-- Steve Kiviat
Echo and the Bunnymen
Near the peak of their American popularity almost 20 years ago, Echo and the Bunnymen headlined DAR Constitution Hall. On Friday night, the band was reduced to playing a sold-out Black Cat -- but didn't seem reduced at all. Indeed, singer Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sergeant, the only original members among the six musicians onstage, sounded more focused and assured than in the final years of the group's first incarnation, which effectively ended in 1988.
Although the set included a few tunes recorded since the Bunnymen's 1997 realliance, this was basically a greatest-hits show. The band performed most of its best-known material, from airborne rockers such as "Rescue" to the grandiose "The Killing Moon" and the pop-friendly "Lips Like Sugar." As he always has, McCulloch slipped bits of other people's hits into the cracks, saluting the Doors, Lou Reed, Wilson Pickett and fellow Liverpudlians the Beatles.
Traditionally, a free-associative medley closed Bunnymen concerts, but this one ended with a quiet version of "Ocean Rain" that recalled McCulloch's halting solo-album attempts at being an art-song crooner. For most of the show, however, the singer worked in thrilling tandem with Sergeant's guitar, which announced tunes such as "Show of Strength" with honed, stately riffs.
The structure of the Bunnymen's most dynamic songs -- from pealing intro to vocal climax to almost a cappella cool-down -- may be a formula, but it's one that still works splendidly.
-- Mark Jenkins