Joey Grihalva

“The Dude” Does Double Duty

Jeff Bridges and The Abiders charm a crowd at the Pabst.

By - Aug 25th, 2014 12:08 pm
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Jeff Bridges is an international icon. If you don’t think so, consider this: there was a bar around the corner from my girl friend’s place in Edinburgh, Scotland called Lebowski’s. They featured 20 varieties of the White Russian, each inspired by a character from the Coen Brothers’ cult film. Patrons would often visit dressed as Bridges titular character, complete with a signature white robe.

As I walked up the stairs at The Pabst Theatre on Saturday night I couldn’t help but notice the banner for the next Point Fish Fry & A Flick, a September 5 screening of The Big Lebowski (1998) outside Discovery World on the Lakefront. Originally scheduled for September 19, it’s safe to say the switch was due to Saturday night’s performance by Jeff Bridges and The Abiders at the Pabst.

I can’t say exactly where Bridges sits in the pantheon of musicians better known as actors. (I’ve yet to see Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band.) But Saturday night made clear that he isn’t wasting anyone’s time on the road with The Abiders, who are a treat unto themselves. Chris Pelonis (lead guitar/vocals) and Bill Flores (pedal steel/accordion) especially impressed, with strong showings by Tom Lackner (drums) and Bob Dylan (circa 1980s) look-alike Randy Tico (bass).

Bridges was soft spoken at the onset, dedicating the night to Robin Williams, his co-star in The Fisher King (1991). He began with “What a Little Bit of Love Can Do,” the debut single of his 2011 solo album, which came on the heels of his Oscar-winning turn as Otis “Bad” Blake in Crazy Heart (2009). The critically acclaimed tale of a weary country singer surely bolstered his recent foray into music.

But Bridges is no Hollywood slouch with a guitar. He’s smooth as organic butter. His voice, while occasionally indecipherable, is a treasure. His strumming is solid. He did have a fan brought out to beat back the heat and blow back his hair (pretty Hollywood), he also plugged his charity (www.nokidhungry.org, very Hollywood), played “a Dude song” (a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover) and some Crazy Heart tracks, but T Bone Burnett and Tom Waits covers, and closing cover of “So You Wanna Be A Rock & Roll Star” by The Byrds, which he first heard in his car radio as a high school student “deciding whether to ditch and go surf or make first period.”

As a songwriter he’s the inverse of his character from Crazy Heart. The aging Blake writes songs that his disciple Tommy Sweet (played by Colin Farrell) performs for a larger audience. In Bridge’s world, a childhood friend, John Goodwin, has written much of his material.

Bridges got personal somewhere in the middle of the set, telling the audience that his father, the actor Lloyd Bridges, discouraged him from trying to be a rock star. “You can play a musician in a film,” the elder Bridges suggested to his son.

Looks like Jeff got the best of both worlds.

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