Sure, he’s starred in many great films, many of which fared better critically and financially than “The Big Lebowski,” the movie that spawned His Dudeness. But when he performed the first of two shows at SLO Brew Thursday night, fans didn’t shout “Bad Blake!” the name of the country singer he portrayed in “Crazy Heart.” They didn’t shout “JACK!” as in Jack Baker, the lounge singer from “The Fabulous Baker Boys.” They shouted, “DUDE!”
Because 1.) The Dude touched on something we need — he was a character that told us it was okay to be lazy sometimes and enjoy the simple things in life, like a round of bowling or a bubble bath. And because 2.) Jeff Bridges is The Dude. (See first line.)
You could see that during the show — not just because he struck up a Dude-like pose. Not because he cited a Dude line. Or even that he performed one of the Dude’s most jamming songs. You could tell just by the look on his face.
Remember the scene in “The Big Lebowski” when the Dude is soaking in Mr. Bubble, enjoying his “Sounds of the Whale” cassette and lighting up a J? Remember that look on his face when he said, “Far out, man. Far f—ing out!”
That was the look he had on stage. And how can you not get drawn into that feeling?
Jeff Bridges the actor is way more successful — the millionaire Jeffrey Bridges, if you will — than Jeffrey Lebowski the character. But he’s got the same mellow spirit, the same appreciation for the little things, like surfing, taking photos on set or jamming to a small group of people in San Luis Obispo, which included his sister.
Sure, not every song he did was a winner. (Read Trib writer Sarah Linn’s review here.) Some of the songs were a little slow, maybe even a little dull. This is country music we’re talking about. And not that new, polished stuff the young, handsome guys sing — those pre-fab pop songs with a twang thrown in. We’re talking Merle Haggard stuff. The kind of country you listen to when you’re sad and alone and so drunk you hardly notice when you accidentally bite your lip.
But “What a Little Bit of Love Can Do” is a legitimate, up-tempo country hit. Meanwhile, the ballad “The Weary Kind” won the Oscar for Best Original Song.
And Bridges isn’t just playing the part any more — he really can sing country. His band The Abiders, meanwhile, are not exactly lightweights.
But, really, honestly, the musical stuff is an aside. Because the people who came to the show — mostly older people, who could have seen “The Last Picture Show” when it came out — they were there to see The Dude.
And Bridges — bless his heart — he never shies from it. So when his guitarist commented that Bridges was giving the best vocal performance he’d heard, Bridges responded with, “That’s, like, your opinion, man” — a line often repeated by Achievers. And when he closed the show with the Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” — the song The Dude got all sublime to before wrecking his jalopy — that too was a gift. Because America is a troubled place now. A divided place, where a line in the sand has been drawn between the haves and the have nots. And as the economy continues to look bleak and the upcoming election makes you fear for even worse, it all makes you want to check out a little.
To bowl. To jam to Creedence.
Or to Jeff Bridges, who isn’t really Bridges. Just call him The Dude. Or El Duderino. Or whatever. Just know that he’s there for us.
Tribune photo: Bert Etling
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