WEST HOLLYWOOD, California — The world-famous Roxy Theatre has played host to everyone from David Bowie to Jane’s Addiction over the years. It was the last place John Belushi partied before he died, home to numerous Heidi Fleiss parties in the ’80s and a site from John Lennon’s mid-’70s lost-weekend-that-lasted-a-year-and-a-half. But until Monday night, it had never seen this sort of debauchery.
“Can I get a large glass of your finest tequila?” actor John C. Reilly asked into the house microphone, taking the stage as the titular character of “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” penned by Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan, and strutting into theaters December 21. Looking out into a free-admission capacity crowd of press and VIPs, he added: “I guarantee you’re going to get what you paid for tonight.”
With that, Reilly/Cox launched into the first of 15 “classics” from the character’s long and varied career. Sporting a black suit with shiny silver buckles all over the pants, a red shirt and a floppy pompadour, he poured himself into every note.
First up was “Guilty as Charged,” a Johnny Cash-like rebellious song boasting lines like “If you’re saying my load is too large/ Well, I’m guilty as charged.” The night began to get more surreal as the crowd playfully chanted “We want Cox!” and was met with the response: “This next song is about someone who’s important in all our lives. I’m talking about my daddy.”
That led to “(I Hate You) Big Daddy,” a song fueled equally by Cox’s blind rage and the backing rhythm of his band, the Hard Walkers. The solid ensemble, clad in matching red and black, sat in for the movie’s “musicians,” including actors Tim Meadows and Chris Parnell, who looked on from the audience.
Next, Cox continued with the Elvis-pastiche “(Mama) You’ve Got to Love Your Negro Man,” followed by “Take My Hand,” “Walk Hard” and the Roy Orbison-influenced “A Life Without You (Is No Life at All).” The latter caused notorious womanizer Cox to point to a young woman in the crowd during the line “I want to drench myself in your love.”
“Some people came here to check Cox out,” the “Chicago” Oscar nominee said, deep in character. “And some people, they came here to worship Cox.”
At that point in the show, he welcomed to the stage singer Angela Correa, explaining that she’d have to fill in for his wife, Darlene, who died in 1974 (Correa is the singing voice of Jenna Fischer’s character in the flick). Together, the two belted out the uproariously funny “Let’s Duet,” with such double-entendre-riffic lines as “In my dreams you’re blowing me … some kisses,” and “I’m gonna beat off … my demons.” Plucking away on a guitar emblazoned with “Dewey Cox,” he then wiped his sweat with a towel, tossed it into the crowd and screamed “Sell that on f—in’ eBay!”
After an impressive cover of the Muddy Waters classic “Got My Mojo Working” (featuring Reilly’s harmonica solo), the crowd heard “Dear Mr. President” (“Are you ready for some social commentary?” was his introduction), the pro-midget anthem “Let Me Hold You (Little Man)” and the feminism ode “Ladies First.” When the crowd applauded, Cox’s response was a humble bark: “You’re welcome!”
“You think it’s all fun and games, that it’s all one unending bacchanalia,” he told the crowd before “I’m Weeping on the Inside.” “Well, it’s not!”
After two tequila shots, numerous Cox jokes and several more songs, he left little doubt that he was indeed a rock star. And if the crowd needed any more proof, he propositioned every female anywhere near the stage and seemed to remove a piece of clothing with each new song.
Returning for a bare-chested encore, sweat dripping from his coif, Cox roared: “Don’t be taking so many pictures now that I’ve taken my shirt off.” Closing out the set with the fake tears of a gleefully sullen “(Have You Heard the News) Dewey Cox Died,” Reilly thanked his accountant, rubbed his nipples in appreciation of the crowd’s applause and then slammed down the microphone.
“You’ve been a dream audience,” he said moments before, marking the only time all night that Reilly broke character by adding: “For real.”
The Roxy gig was the first in Reilly’s “Cox Across America” tour, which will also bring Dewey and the Hard Walkers to Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on December 5, then along to Chicago (December 6 at the Cubby Bear), Austin, Texas (December 7 at Stubb’s), Nashville (December 8 at Mercy Lounge), San Francisco (December 10 at the Great American Music Hall), back to Los Angeles (December 10 at Guitar Center on Sunset Boulevard) and concluding at New York’s Knitting Factory on December 19. “Walk Hard” will be screened before each performance. The persona might be fake, but if Monday’s show is any indication, the cheers will be very real.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.”
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