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Bridges makes successful diversion

Wilbur Theatre, Boston, September 3, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Jeff Bridges could be accused of satisfying his jones for singing. After all, he is known first and foremost as an actor. But limiting one's cultural respect for Bridges to only the silver screen would be selling him short as he underscored during a satisfying stint playing musician.

Bridges gained most of his notoriety as a singer thanks to his Oscar winning performance as down-and-out country singer Bad Blake in 2009's "Crazy Heart." He released his first album in 2000 to middling response with a follow-up out in 2011. Since then, he has hit the road in between acting gigs.

Fittingly, most of the songs during his 100-minute show were country, although he started off with a crackling version of the bluesy "Somebody Else." His worn and weathered vocals fit right in with the songs. Bridges does not own a smooth or pretty voice, but it sure fit with the material. There's a believability to the delivery.

Bridges said at the outset that the goal of the night was to play songs that honored his friends. And that he did in spades, playing a bunch of songs from John Goodwin, a friend dating back about 50 years. He also reached back to cult favorite "The Big Lebowski," another film for which he received a lot of his fan base, for his take on Dylan's "The Man in Me."

Since he is best known for his acting, a large portion of the set list consisted of songs from films. Among them were the best known from "Crazy Heart," "Fallin' & Flyin," which closed out the regular set, and "The Weary Kind," the Ryan Bingham song. He reached back to "Tideland," a film by Terry Gilliam, which he said was strange even for Gilliam ("and that's saying a lot," opined Bridges), for "Van Gogh in Hollywood."

While obviously proud of his main gig, Bridges used that as a jumping off point to talk just a bit about the movies and the songs that emanated from them. Since chances are that the crowd may not have been familiar at all with a chunk of the songs (or movies), the education was worthwhile.

It sure helps that Bridges was backed by a supple, multi-talented quartet. Guitarist Chris Pelonis spiked many of the songs with his sharp playing on his axe, but also on harp. Bill Flores was monster on pedal steel, sometimes giving a mournful feel, but more importantly maintaining a country vibe. Bassist Randy Tico split his time between acoustic and electric, and worked in step with drummer Tom Lackner.

The list of actors who have gone into country in recent years is not littered with many worthy performers. While Bridges is unlikely to turn his back on his acting, he showed that he - and his crowd - could enjoy the diversion.

Jessie Bridges, Jeff's daughter, opened with a good set of songs she penned. While mainly playing acoustic, her backing musician added much texture on guitar, giving a rootsy/country direction. One wondered if Bridges would have opened if not for the headliner, but while no miracle worker, she filled her role capably.