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John C. Reilly and Friends @ Miller Caves

June 16, 2013

Jun. 17, 2013
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Photo credit: CJ Foeckler
There’s perhaps another club or two that can claim to be as dark and musty, but Sunday night John C. Reilly and his bluegrass band performed at the only venue in the city that boasts its own house hologram. Cast against a Pawnee Town Hall-esque mural of a German beer garden, an apparition of Milwaukee beer baron Frederick Miller greeted the crowd at Reilly’s early show at the Miller Caves, the first-ever ticketed concert held in the venue. As the mustached projection explained, the caves were built to keep the brewery’s stock cool in the pre-refrigeration days, and though the space was never intended for live music, its intimate stage and surprisingly warm acoustics made it well-suited for the event. It was also a fittingly quirky venue for a headliner who’s a little quirky himself.

“Hope you enjoyed the hologram; that was weird,” Reilly said of the evening’s MC, who became a running joke throughout the set, the source of many of the actor’s between-song quips, along with the caves’ distinctly cave-like odor. Perhaps because of his natural comic timing, or perhaps because he’s so convincingly played so many lumpy, disheveled characters on screen, Reilly is hard to take seriously as a musician, and Sunday night he made no pretenses of being one of the greats. He sang like you’d imagine John C. Reilly might sing, in a steady if unspectacular voice, and played the guitar merely perfunctorily, taking the lead only once (the crowd erupted in applause during his modest solo). Most of the weight, then, fell on his able backing band, which included a founding member of the Old Crow Medicine Show and four other players significantly more seasoned than their famous bandleader. Interpreting old chestnuts from Woody Guthrie, George Jones, The Carter Family and the like, they all took turns singing lead, frequently huddling together around a shared microphone like so many old-time country acts (or Mumford and Sons, depending on your point of reference).

Reilly asked for the crowd’s silence during the set’s many slow songs, and by and large he received it. Drawn less by the music than the promise of celebrity and novelty, and enlivened by the three free beers generously included with each ticket, the crowd cheered loudest for the fast ones, though, especially the barnstormers that closed the set on a high. Reilly bid farewell by encouraging the crowd to seek out his bandmates should they swing through town again. And as for himself? “I’ll see you in the movies,” he said. It was the type of claim that would have sounded incredibly suave coming from a more traditional leading man. Coming from Reilly, though, it just made the crowd laugh.


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