He won an Oscar playing a country singer, so it comes as no surprise that Jeff Bridges has the best country show on the road.
At the first of two SRO gigs Tuesday night at City Winery, Bridges reprised his big songs from Crazy Heart—starting his set with “Fallin’ and Flyin’”—and added memorable songs from other cinematic high points, most notably the Creedence Clearwater Revival classic “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” from The Big Lebowski--an expressed nod to his career-defining role.
Indeed, Bridges continues to embody the immortal “Dude” physically, at least, and retains his wonderfully laidback ease. But he also resembles the washed-up Bad Blake Crazy Heart character, who sang country music as real as it gets--as does Bridges today.
With his raspy, whiskeyed voice, rugged yet comfortable, Bridges also evokes Kristofferson, both vocally and in grizzled look. Fielding a first-rate country band (the Lebowski-invoking Abiders, with lead guitarist/background vocalist/keyboardist/harmonica player Chris Pelonis, drummer Tom Lackner, bassist Randy Tico, pedal steel player/lap guitarist/electric and 12-string guitarist/accordionist Bill Flores), Bridges, who also played guitar and keyboards, ran through most of his forthcoming album Jeff Bridges & The Abiders LIVE, out Sept. 30 on Mailboat Records.
Also from Crazy Heart came “I Don’t Know,” in which Pelonis mixed Cajun, Tex-Mex and zyedeco accordion stylings. From his unforgettable 1992 film drama American Heart soundtrack, Bridges, at the piano, sang Tom Waits “I'll Never Let Go of Your Hand,” capably approximating Waits’ low and gruff tones.
Bridges even gave a shout-out to the fans of his father Lloyd’s 1950s underwater adventure TV series Sea Hunt—in which he occasionally appeared as a youngster. Speaking of the love for showbiz that he inherited, he acknowledged its darker side, than delivered a tune about it written by his childhood friend John Goodwin, “Van Gogh in Hollywood.”
But Hollywood doesn’t seem to have darkly affected Bridges. At City Winery, he plugged his involvement in the anti-child hunger Share Our Strength organization’s No Kid Hungry Campaign, for which he’s a spokesman. “They’re our future,” he said, noting New York City and State’s woeful record in feeding school children. “When they succeed, we succeed.”
Recalling his favorite New York film shoot, he dedicated the show to Robin Williams, with whom he starred in The Fisher King. And for his encores “The Weary Kind” (from Crazy Heart) and The Byrds’ classic “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star,” he brought back Jessie Bridges, who had opened the show with a four-song set.
Jessie did her father proud with thoughtful singer-songwriter fare (“When Today is Tomorrow” stood out). He clearly passed on both talent and affable charm: She sweetly asked everyone to come up and say hi to her during the brief set change.
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