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“You know, I did this acting thing for a while,” Jeff Bridges deadpanned during his invite-only concert Tuesday at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. With a genuinely impressive run of star turns — along with an Oscar and five other noms — the likable 61-year-old could be granted a vanity music project.
But that’s not what this was. Bridges was playing music before he got into acting four-plus decades ago, and he told stories of long-ago jam sessions and gave shout-outs to any number of musical collaborators from then and now. And his cred was secured by the man who introduced him.
“I haven’t been here for 35 or 40 years,” one Quincy Jones said. “But I’m happy to be here for my baby brother.” He recalled the old Bridges Brothers band, with Jeff and older sib Beau, as “the stuff.” “Jeff was about 17 then, and stone Haight-Ashbury.”
He mentioned that Jeff Bridges wrote and sang “Lost in Space,” a song on the Jones-produced soundtrack to the 1969 Dustin Hoffman–Mia Farrow movie John and Mary. After he called the headliner to the stage, the men embraced. “This is surreal,” Bridges said before starting. “It’s very rewind. The last time I played here, I had just recorded that tune with Quincy.”
And so it was on. Not just another movie star with aspirations of conquering a second medium but a heartfelt and long-in-coming chance to perform. After winning an Oscar for playing hard-living, downward-spiraling country singer Bad Blake in 2009’s Crazy Heart, Bridges has a self-titled album due Aug. 16 via Blue Note. He played seven of the record’s 10 songs, ranging from country folk to honky tonk to rockabilly, along with several from the movie. And the room filled with friends, family, celebs including Pierce Brosnan and Ryan Reynolds and industry types seemed to enjoy it as much as he did.
Bridges sang lead on every song, his voice ranging from “Promises”-era Eric Clapton to a way-down-low bass on “Slow Boat,” a tune from the new record that he wrote with longtime collaborator T Bone Burnett. He was amiable, funny, chatty and interesting — no surprise there — and if he was nervous or inhibited, it didn’t show.
Accordion lent a Tex-Mex feel to the Ryan Bingham-penned Crazy Heart tune “I Don’t Know.” The song received a huge cheer, very unlike the average Troubadour show, where audiences are notoriously stoic. Credit the friendly crowd, the movie star onstage or the open bar, but it’s also a pretty solid song.
The first new one he played was “Everything but Love,” whose steel guitar placed it solidly on the country side of the Americana fence. He followed with the Greg Brown-penned “Blue Car,” for which he strapped on a Gretsch electric.
There was an interesting juxtaposition of new songs midset. Album opener “What a Little Bit of Love Can Do” got the crowd going with its radio-friendly rollick and chorus. But rather than feed off that uptempo momentum, Bridges opted for the dirge-like “Slow Boat,” which was punctuated by a pair of wild, surprise guitar breaks. Both songs were quite memorable.
Things perked right back up as Bridges launched into “Fallin’ & Flyin’,” the Bad Blake “hit” from Crazy Heart. Brilliant in its simplicity, the chorus of “Funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’, for a little while” sounds like it could have been a country-radio smash.
The only time Bridges seemed uncomfortable during the 77-minute set was when tuning his guitar. After one frustrating attempt, he said, “I hate when you’re tuning and you think you’re tuning but you’re hitting a different string.” After a few minutes of tinkering while filling the time with a somewhat rambling story, he finally gave up and said, “Where’s my guitar ‘tech’?”
A guy down front offered Bridges a white Russian, the familiar preferred beverage of the actor’s character in 1998’s The Big Lebowski (he declined). Bridges never mentioned that Coen brothers movie – perhaps his defining role despite the Crazy Heart Oscar — by name, but there were references: After introducing the band, he said, “We are the Abiders.” Later, a sideman introduced the star as “the Dude — Jeff Bridges.” A little less obvious Lebowski nod was his covering Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me,” the first song on the film’s soundtrack.
(Of his backing quartet, none of whom played on the album, he added: “I thought, ‘This is gonna be tough, casting this band.’ These were the first guys to show up.”)
“There’s a guy who I’m blaming for all this,” Bridges said of Burnett about 10 minutes in. “You caused this dream I’m in.” He said they met while working on the notorious 1980 film Heaven’s Gate. “That’s a good movie,” someone shouted, to which Bridges replied: “That was a good movie. Whenever I watch it, I enjoy it.”
Family was a recurring topic of his banter all night. He cited Beau (“My dear brother, my agent”) early on and apologized to his late mother for not sticking with those piano lessons. “I wish my mom and dad could have been here tonight,” he said. “They would have dug this.” He dedicated the evening’s final song, “The Man in Me,” to his wife of 34 years. “This song here is for my sweetheart, Sue,” he said.
The crowd up front was attentive throughout, but there was near-constant chatter farther back by the bar. It was annoying, but Bridges didn’t seem to care. There was actual shushing when he began the encore with “The Weary Kind,” Bingham’s Oscar-winning theme from Crazy Heart. His mostly closed-eyed delivery was pure and earnest, like most of the enjoyable show.
Hold on You
I Don’t Know
Everything but Love
Maybe I Missed the Point
What a Little Bit of Love Can Do
Fallin’ & Flyin’
The Weary Kind
The Man in Me
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