Robbie Fulks has a fantastic band that he seldom plays without, and when in Madison he headlines the Harmony Bar where he's been known to play marathon three hour shows. So to see him solo in a 45 minute opening set for Alejandro Escovedo at the High Noon Saloon on Saturday night was doubly unusual. With more time he's been known to cover anything from ABBA to Michael Jackson, but when limited he chose to showcase several new songs, including the hilarious "Commonlaw Cabin" and the bittersweet "Goodbye Virginia." "It's in ¾ time," he informed us about the latter, "so if you're in the mood for waltzing to white guy playing solo guitar… good luck."
Without the band, Fulks' formidable guitar skills were on display, most prominently on "North Carolina is the Cigarette State," or really anytime he said "Take it Robbie!" before launching into a solo. It was Fulks' first trip to the High Noon, and he seemed to appreciate the venue, "I have to play more shows with this Alejandro guy, I'm obviously moving up in the world."
Primarily known as an earnest and intimate singer songwriter, Escovedo's choice of covers for the encore would be a surprise to anyone who hasn't seen him before. Bowie's "Man Who Sold the World," the Stooges "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and the Stones "Beast of Burden" finished out a night full of rock moments, including a few Pete Townsend-style windmill guitar strokes. His own songs could be just as raucous, especially an incendiary "Everybody Loves Me," featuring bow-shredding violin work from Susan Voelz.
While not as vocal as Fulks, Escovedo did have his share of quips. "We stopped playing this song for a long time once we found out it was on George W's I-Pod top ten list," he admitted before fan-favorite "Castanets," "I'm still in therapy for it." Both artists followed their sets with an additional audience-demanded song. While Fulks chose the lighthearted "Goodbye Cruel Girl," Escovedo finished the night accompanied by just cello and violin for a beautiful "I Wish I Was Your Mother," finally playing the brooding artist.