Monday, December 17, 2012


Northcote Social Club

It’s a thoroughly packed Northcote Social Club tonight, full of curious camera-phone wielding John C Reilly fans (Disney forbids the use of the ‘C’ for promotional purposes, so Reilly says by way of introduction), and genuine bluegrass aficionados. Keeping an audience silent throughout his arresting set is Steve Smyth, a performer with confidence and conviction matched only by the size of his voluminous beard. Often singing off-mic (most notably for the chain-gang stomp of Sylvie), and occasionally strumming a cheap acoustic guitar, Smyth lurches from quiet croon to Waitesian bellow as the mood takes him, and it takes him all over the NSC stage and into physical contortions that would be rendered ridiculous were it not for his power. If a concept of musical ‘integrity’ can be found by stripping a song away to its barest form, then Smyth is about as naked as a performer can be. Though the final song Cocaine Mountain features the lyrics ‘I’ve touched the face of witches / Held the hand of the devil’s apprentice’, which rings hollow for a 20-something guy from Sydney with the voice of an aging African American, he is a striking performer and wins many new fans.

Before the applause dies, and with Smyth only off the stage for seconds, John Reilly and his ‘Friends’ singer Becky Stark and guitarist and singer Tom Brousseau stride onstage, and burst into Good Morning Captain. ‘Feel like yodeling?’ Reilly asks with a wry smile. We don’t it seems, because this is the inner north of Melbourne and most of us are here to see a famous actor in the flesh, but that doesn’t stop him from letting loose. Dressed in a white shirt, waistcoat, fedora and sporting a temperamental old Gibson guitar named Charlie, Reilly is so incredibly at ease that it’s impossible to dislike him, and thereby the music he’s here to play, which is simple, beautiful and powerful. Interspersing stories, jokes and politely dismissing requests to songs from his films (Boats N Hoes etc.) Reilly focuses on the songs he’s here to get through, though a surprising amount of hilarity comes from Stark and Brousseau, all of who have fantastic floating voices. The songs themselves begin as bluegrass classics and move into a more country style (Stanley Brothers’ Start Over New, The Carter Family’s A Winding Stream and Claude Ely’s Ain't No Grave), the trio’s keening harmonies silencing the room.

After a hilarious story about filming The Thin Red Line in Queensland (complete with a wayward Aussie accent) Reilly quips 'we'll give you a laugh now then play a song that's absolutely devastating,' before heading into Johnny Cash’s harrowing Dark As a Dungeon and a jauntier Maybe Tomorrow by The Everley Brothers. ‘Hey, I’m not Slash up here’ he deadpans when going for a guitar solo. With a rumour of a cameo from Sarah Silverman, also in town to promote Wreck It Ralph, we instead get special guest Lanie Lane. Her and Reilly tackle Lee Hazelwood’s Jackson that Lane promptly forgets the words to, though Reilly’s charismatic plea that ‘you can get a polished act any day of the week' softens the mess it becomes. An encore of a very Elvis-y Blue Christmas, then a lullaby in the pitch-darkness, is a treat. Finally a sing-along of Goodnight Irene seals the whole show as one in which the performers are there for the love of the music and its performance alone, without having anything to prove or sell.

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