Robbie Fulks thrives on weekly concerts

 
 
Updated 2/7/2011 9:56 AM
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  • Acclaimed alt-country songwriter Robbie Fulks plays every Monday night at the Hideout in Chicago.

    Acclaimed alt-country songwriter Robbie Fulks plays every Monday night at the Hideout in Chicago.

Local music fans who haven't yet seen talented alt-country hero Robbie Fulks play live don't have to wait long to get their chance.

Fulks, a longtime Chicago-area resident who now lives in Wilmette, is in the midst of what he says is an indefinite Monday-night "residency" at the intimate Hideout music club in the city.

He tries to vary the show from week to week. This past Monday, for example, he devoted the night to the music of Liz Phair. On other nights he'll sing with a special guest or take requests from the crowd.

"I like it because it has a back-porch kind of atmosphere," Fulks said. "It's a quieter room at the Hideout, and it feels like I'm just sitting on a chair with someone, playing and singing."

Fulks began the residency last year, and it went so well for both him and his audience that he decided to keep it going in 2011 for as long as he can.

"It's been great," he said. "Last year, there was some crazy variety to the shows. I think I'm going to tone that down a bit more this year and try to play regularly with the same group. But there still will be differences each week."

Fulks, a Pennsylvania native, moved to Chicago 27 years ago, shortly before the birth of his first son (he now has three). His first full-length record, "Country Love Songs," came out in 1996 on the local label Bloodshot Records.

Fulks immediately turned heads with his unique take on country music -- an approach that exhibited a deep love for the form while also poking fun at its conventions. He could be snarky one moment, as in the song "She Took a Lot of Pills (and Died)," and heartfelt the next, as in "Tears Run Only One Way."

Since then, Fulks has released a slew of stellar records that blur the lines between country, rock and bluegrass genres. The constants have been his warm, twangy voice, his witty lyrics and his willingness to experiment. (His last record, "Happy," was an offbeat collection of Michael Jackson covers.)

"You don't want to get into a rut where you're doing the same thing over and over," he said. "I'm lucky in that I've been able to go down some weird roads when the mood struck me."

Fulks has recorded for a variety of labels during his career, but lately he's been in do-it-yourself mode. He released "Happy" on his own, and he posted 50 songs he'd written and recorded throughout 2008 on his website, robbiefulks.com, for download. Fulks said he's just started writing songs for a new record.

"I like getting into the studio and recording, because it's the place where you can really 'create' and use your brain," he said. "Live performance is more of a heat-of-the-moment thing.

"It's funny, though. As I've gotten older, it's sometimes harder to find that feeling of inspiration that originally drives you to sit down and write. But things like these Monday night shows at the Hideout help, because I still get really jazzed by getting up onstage and playing with a bunch of people."