Review by Dan Hyman
During his half-century residence on the silver screen, Jeff Bridges has inhabited many personas. His most memorable? “The Dude,” the schlubby, perpetually stoned beatnik from 1998's The Big Lebowski. Until 2009, that is. Two years ago, Bridges turned in an Academy-Award winning portrayal of “Bad Blake,” the washed up, alcoholic country star whose life crumbles before our eyes in the artsy character flick Crazy Heart. This honest portrayal, besides legitimizing an often underappreciated actor, also shed light upon something largely unknown by the general public: Bridges has some legitimate musical chops [Ed note: It also confirmed that Maggie Gyllenhaal sucks as an actor].
As the actor/musician took the stage for an hour-long set at the Troubadour, a night which saw him play a handful of Crazy Heart tunes, as well as a new batch of whiskey-soaked country ditties from his upcoming self-titled album, set to be released on August 16th, the 61-year-old, who in the past year has graced multiple magazine covers, handed the Best Actress award over to Natalie and even found time to play a badass trapped inside a computer, seemed completely taken aback. “This is surreal,” he said upon taking the stage.
Everybody from music industry big-wigs, Hollywood elite (Ryan Reynolds and Olivia Wilde–his Tron costar–were conversing in the back all evening — we're fighting the temptation to say they were “canoodling,” because we don't even really know what that word means), and a smattering of wide-eyed fans filled the room. Moments before Bridges sauntered on stage, famed producer Quincy Jones gave a heartfelt introduction. “I'm so happy to be here for my baby brother,” he said of Bridges, whom he jokingly claimed to have met “sometime after the discovery of electricity.” Jones and Bridges met when Jeff was 17– back when Bridges could be best described as of the “stoned Haight-Ashbury” variety. But Jones' genuinely loves and respects the Dude. “I gave Jeff Bridges his first shot,” the music icon said, referencing a pair of Bridges' compositions he purchased for the 1969 film John and Mary. “(I) saw it coming.”
Bridges' performance Tuesday night culled from both Crazy Heart material as well as new album cuts. Opening with the slow, barn-burning strut of “Hold On You,” looking admittedly more “Dude” than “Bad Blake,” Bridges moaned into the mic. “All my life I've been a rollin' stone/ Done everything that a man can do/Everything but get a hold on you.” After easing through the hillbilly march of “I Don't Know,” another Crazy Heart number, Bridges took the opportunity to thank the men behind the tunes: notably production guru T-Bone-Burnett, also in attendance Tuesday night, as well as songwriter Johnny Goodwin, whom Bridges has known since the 4th grade.
Admittedly, many of Bridges' songs are colored with similar decorations: wailing pedal steel, upright bass thwack and a varying menagerie of G-chords. But it's in the way that Bridges manipulates the emotion of each, particularly on his newer tunes, that posits him as anything but an actor getting his rocks off by having people hear him sing. The rolling-in-the-hay love letter “Maybe I Missed The Point”; the simple Johnny Cash charm in “The Quest”; the Texan waltz that is “Everything But Love.” Each, while perhaps mistaken for Merle Haggard b-sides, felt forthright– based on true tribulation, not teflon transparency.
“I did this acting thing for awhile,” Bridges said during his many quips, before launching into the Oscar-winning Crazy Heart tune “The Weary Kind” during his encore, the Ryan Bingham-penned number which may have single-handedly sparked the actor's new moonlighting gig as a musician. With that, Bridges simply could have strolled offstage — a storied actor exiting triumphantly after a stellar musical performance. Instead, Bridges pushed onward, closing the evening with a rendition of the Lebowski theme song, Bob Dylan's “Man In Me.”
And really, it was only fitting. Because, take away the Oscars, the accolades, the new album, even the gigs, and many people, for better or worse, only want to know Bridges as one person: “The Dude.” “Have a White Russian!” a 30-something in the front row yelled at Bridges mid-set, handing him the famous vodka-milk concoction which “The Dude” made famous. “No, thanks,” Bridges said, laughing. “I prefer my Russians clear these days.”