Legendary rocker Dewey Cox has been dead for a number of years but thanks to the wonders of modern science and something called the “Time Continuum Experiment,” he was able to return to the New York stage for the first time since 1968 with a special show at the famed Knitting Factory on his seven-city “Cox Across America Tour.” (As Dewey himself mentioned during the show, the last time he played at the club, it was back when it was still a real knitting factory with lots of old grannies sweating over their work as he played tunes.)
The relatively small club was quickly packed with journalists, industry people and lucky moviegoers who got passes to see Dewey in a rare concert performance and around 9:45, Dewey’s band the Hard Walkers–a group of young musicians led by Mike Viola, formerly of The Candy Butchers, hit the stage. Cox ran out dressed like Elvis–apparently in his matador days–shaking and gyrating wildly, as the band kicked into his signature song “Guilty as Charged” followed by his ode to his disapproving father “Big Daddy” and the Roy Orbison-like “A Life Without You.” Some keen-eyed fans in the audience may have noticed the resemblance between Cox and Oscar-nominated actor John C. Reilly, who must have been used as the vessel to channel Cox’s essence for this one night only New York performance.
In between the songs, Cox bantered about his life and the origins of the songs, much of it seemingly improvised for the night, but he seemed very happy to be back in “dirty New York City” with all the shouts of “We love Cox!” from the audience some of those shouts from men. (This is New York after all where anything goes!) He also flirted and caressed some of the swooning female journalists in the first row–a few of them who may have been old enough to have been there when Cox played the club 40 years ago.
As he put on his customized acoustic guitar, Cox told the audience that a few of his black friends warned him not to perform the next song and while some fans expected him to do the controversial “You Got to Love Your Negro Man,” he instead went into a seemingly new song not on his latest compilation album, something called “Mojo Working.”
After talking about the process for bringing him back from the after-life in his ’50s incarnation (but with knowledge of his entire body of songs), he brought out a surprise, as SNL cast member Kristen Wiig, who plays Dewey’s first-wife Ingrid in the new biopic, joined him onstage for the hilarious double-entendre-filed “Let’s Duet,” which he previously sang with his second wife Darlene (played by Jenna Fischer in the movie). Because Darlene died shortly after Dewey out of grief he gave his first wife a chance to sing with him, something that was well-received by Wiig’s hometown crowd.
The Hard Walkers took a break as Dewey and Viola strapped on acoustic guitars, and Dewey got all political with a couple songs from his “These Are My Issues” album, “Mr. President” and “Let Me Hold You (Little Man),” both which went over well with the liberal-minded New Yorkers that believe in standing up for the little man. He then took a couple shots at one Robert Zimmerman for stealing his sound and admitted that he too had the hots for Joan Baez at one point, before kicking into the “Dylanesque” (or “Deweyesque” if you believe Cox’s claims) ballad “Royal Jelly” which contains some of the most non-sensical lyrics since well, Dylan’s last record.
The band came back for a couple more upbeat numbers as Dewey continued to shimmy and gyrate to the music, removing more and more articles of clothing over the course of the show until he was shirtless. The big surprise came when Dewey and the band broke away from their normal repertoire and their “greatest hits” to tackle a couple songs from Dewey’s modern-day peers. He must have felt some kinship with Amy Winehouse’s woes as he reflected back on his own drug problems with a rockabilly version of “Rehab,” which went right into a rockin’ version of the Rolling Stones’ “Shattered,” which Dewey used for a bathroom break, coming back with a fake penis still sticking out of his fly. (Paramedics were called for the older female journalists in the first row.) He told the audience that if he had a choice whether to stay in heaven or be in New York below 14th Street that he’d stay right where he was “because the heroin is better” before he kicked into a hi-speed coked up version of Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” proving that his earlier stint in rehab didn’t quite work. They closed the set with a lovely new ballad about the 1% of the time when living a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle isn’t fun called “Weeping on the Inside” and closed with the title track from Dewey’s biopic “Walk Hard.”
The adoring crowd called the band back for a couple encores as they kicked into the final big hit of Dewey’s illustrious career, the glorious “Beautiful Ride,” which went right into a note-perfect rendition of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” There were many tears in the audience as they closed the show with Dewey’s mournful eulogy to himself “(Have You Heard the News) Dewey Cox Died” with the entire band joining in for vocals on one refrain. It was especially sad as Dewey was called back to the Great Beyond allowing John C. Reilly to have his own body back, surely having created some new barometer for the amount of dedication an actor has ever put into a single role.
It was a great show–you can see more pictures here–and the show was captured on film, so hopefully some of the performances will turn up on a DVD down the road. (Actually, you can catch some clips of the show here.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story opens nationwide on Friday, December 21. You can also check out our exclusive interview with director Jake Kasdan and buy the soundtrack on Amazon or better yet, download the extended version exclusively from the iTunes store and hear a bunch of those extra songs not in the movie.