Jeff Bridges: Just abiding until the big time

Larry Sabo image
Jeff Bridges abides a sellout Harrah’s Lake Tahoe audience with superb musicianship. Photo by Larry Sabo
You’d think at age 63, for chrissakes, Jeff Bridges would be a little more inclined toward retirement. You know, long walks on a beach, pina-colada firmly in hand, some sunset gazing with the wife. After all, the well-liked actor has enjoyed a full and respected career – what with juicy parts in “True Grit,” “Ironman,” “The Fabulous Baker Boys” and ,of course, “The Big Lebowski.” But no, the six-time Oscar nominee is finally embracing a music career that’s been tickling him all his life. It could be his Oscar for portraying drunken music man, Bad Blake, in “Crazy Heart,” kicked-started Bridges’ music mojo. Lucky for us. Ahead of a pending album based on live concert footage, Jeff Bridges & the Abiders are on an eight-gig West Coast tour. The Abiders are a tight team of talent from Bridges’ home base of Santa Barbara, and the show starts with a half-hour set by Jeff’s daughter, Jessie Bridges. When the Abiders came onstage to a full house Aug. 3 in Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s South Shore Room, it launched right into a frisky “Crazy Heart” tune. After playing “Somebody Else,” Bridges went straight into the introduction of his band. The able Abiders include Tom Lackner on drums (his son, Gabe, plays guitar with Jessie), Randy Tico on several types of bass, and Bill Flores on pedal steel. An ever-genial Bridges said, “The man in the hat, Bill Flores, is responsible for the band’s name. I wanted to go with the more obscure The Royal We, but Bill suggested the Abiders.” Which is, of course, a reference to the Dude, from “The Big Lebowski.” Bridges continued his intro, saying, “And our music director on guitar, is Chris Pelonis. You might add ‘Mighty’ to his name.” Pelonis pointed out that Bridges needed to change guitars for the next song, and Jeff laughed, “See? I told you he was our music director!” Then they bounced into a thoroughly upbeat, spot-on version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Looking Out My Back Door.” Other tunes were a mix by “Steven Bruton — he writes just wonderful songs” and Bridges “oldest friend since the fourth grade, John Goodwin,” plus “long-time pal, T-Bone Burnett.” After playing to huge audience appreciation, “I Don’t Know,” a Crazy Heart tune by Burnett, Bridges pointed out that he’d met T-Bone and Kris Kristofferson on the 1980 filmed-in-Montana movie, “Heaven’s Gate.” If listening to Bridges suggests a tinge of Kristofferson, yup, a lot of folks get that. The men are long connected through both music and acting; and there could be worse ways to channel your country groove than evoking another noteworthy, handsome, gritty actor with your vocal style. One of the best choices of the night for Jeff’s admittedly low-range voice, was a Tom Waits cover – that sounded so powerful and melancholy in Bridges’ version – just the way Waits would appreciate. Guitarist Pelonis is an superb addition to the band’s sound (and I feel guilty singling him out, since they are all terrific musicians). And on tunes like “She Lay Her Whip Down,” he got to branch into some big electric riffing, while on “Blue Car,” he played some very swampy, chilling harp. Bridges took a few minutes to explain a charitable organization he’s very involved with – the End Hunger Network, that is trying to achieve No Kid Hungry in the U.S. by 2015. There’s more info on this impressive program at www.jeffbridges.com/endhunger.html. As the concert got closer to its end, daughter Jessie came running out to join in on the last few tunes, including the aptly Beach Boys-sounding “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” and a sweet father-daughter duet on the Graham Nash-penned “Teach Your Children.” Through the evening, Bridges Senior kept up a strong connection to the crowd. Obviously he’s comfortable on stage, and he’s had the good taste and whimsical spirit to star in two Cohen Bros. movies – and it shows. In the last tribute to Crazy Heart for the night, there were some haunting tones from Flores’ pedal steel, while Jeff’s evocative acoustic play led us to think, once again…what a talent. And thank gawd he’s not retired!

Jessie Bridges’ sweet opening set

Jessie’s sweet little opening set, with guitar assist from Gabe Lackner, just carries forward the the Bridges’ family legacy of talent. Her sound is a bit of Feist meets Hayley Williams (from Paramore). But in a low-key and pretty way, with her acoustic guitar play on self-penned tunes like “You Don’t Have to be a Perfect Daughter” and “I Don’t Care (about a break-up with a friend).” Sideman Gabe hails also from Santa Barbara – but has been living in San Francisco playing music, DJ-ing and producing music. He plans to move back to Southern Cal and keep doing the same. His father is a well-known drummer, who plays now in Jeff Bridges’ Abiders. Jessie has just come out with her second LP, “Let It Breathe” – available through her website, http://jessiebridgesmusic.com/. — Tahoe writer, Dana Turvey, originally from Montana, has several friends who worked with  Jeff Bridges on “Heaven’s Gate.” Of course, there’s Norton Buffalo, who she came to know through her long friendship with Bruce Robinson. This is the same Robinson who, as an extra on Heaven’s Gate, was told by Bridges that “he plays an excellent drunk.” Hours of verbal ammo on that comment – thanks, Jeff!

Jeff Bridges & the Abiders Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Aug. 3, 2013

  1. “Somebody Else” (from “Crazy Heart”)
  2. “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” (Creedence cover)
  3. “What A Little Bit of Love Can Do” (by Steve Bruton from first “Jeff Bridges” LP)
  4. Unknown, by John Goodwin
  5. “She Lay Her Whip Down” (by John Goodwin)
  6. “I Don’t Know” (from “Crazy Heart”)
  7. “Blue Car” (by Greg Brown from “Jeff Bridges”)
  8. “Never Let Go” (by Tom Waits for movie “American Heart”)
  9. “Fallin’ & Flyin’ ” (from “Crazy Heart”)
  10. “Van Gogh in Hollywood” (from movie “Tideland”)
  11. “Slow Boat” (by Bridges & T-Bone Burnett, from “Jeff Bridges”)
  12. “So You Want To Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star” (Byrds cover)
  13. “Teach Your Children” (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young cover)
  14. “The Weary Kind” (from “Crazy Heart”)
  15. “The Man In Me” (Bob Dylan cover)

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