Class Act

Jeff Daniels kicks off Holland’s 1200 Club season You know Jeff Daniels. You know him as the goofy sidekick in Dumb and Dumber, as the neglectful dad in The Squid and The Whale, as the villain in Clint Eastwood’s Blood Work or maybe as the star of Woody Allen’s critically acclaimed The Purple Rose of Cairo. What you might not know, however, is that Daniels is also a more-than-competent guitar player, singer and songwriter who has quietly been honing his craft for 30-some years. With four records to his credit, including 2009’s highly entertaining Live at The Purple Rose, Daniels has proven himself more than just another actor with rock-star aspirations. And while Kevin Bacon and Russell Crowe may have soured the general public on this new fangled breed of actor-come-musician, Daniels uses both his silver screen and theater experience to augment his live concert performances. “I had a great conversation with Russell [Crowe] about all that,” Daniels says with a slight chuckle. “He asked me ‘What the hell?’ and I told him look, ‘You’re Gladiator and I’m Dumb and Dumber.’ I told him to just play to play and he said maybe he’d go down to the pier in Sydney and play. That’s how you have to look at it; they won’t let us succeed in two different things in this country.” Perhaps one thing that sets Daniels’ music apart from Crowe’s is the consistent and unique quality of his songs. While his guitar playing is certainly skillful and owes a debt to many of the great Delta blues players as well as contemporaries like Keb Mo, the often playful style of his songwriting (both in the lyrics and the guitar playing) lends his compositions a degree of humor, comfortability and style that is singular. It doesn’t come off as contrived but rather as an honest extension of his warm personality. And as someone who has made his name as part of ensemble casts in both film and theater, it seems somewhat strange he would chose to perform his songs as a solo artist. “The first time I played solo was about 10 years ago to raise money for my theater in Michigan, The Purple Rose Theater,” he says. “I’d been playing for over 25 years at that point but for me it was just kind of a back porch thing, I was doing it just for me. I really wasn’t prepared for how naked I felt out there. I was doing my own material and if you’re going to do that solo then you just have to do it. There’s no character for you to hide behind like in a movie where there’s this kind of filter between you and the audience. Playing solo, that filter is gone. So I had to become a character, a guy who just comes up on stage and does it. So I pretty much became this character, this guy who is comfortable being up there.” Daniels’ original songs have a down-home wit to them, like listening to a favorite uncle tell funny stories about everything from teaching kids how to drive (“Daddy’s Little Daughter”) to romantic entanglements (“Baby, Take Your Tongue Outta My Mouth, I’m Kissin’ You G’Bye”) to growing old publicly and gracefully (“When You’re Fifty”). And while some concertgoers may shell out their hard earned cash to just to see the guy from some movie they loved, Daniels has no problem with that and uses his endearing personality and humor to create a one-of-a-kind musical performance. “If they like the guy from the movies, so be it, he will show up,” Daniels says. “My goal is to make you laugh harder than you have in a long time. You won’t know what’s coming next. And if you’re willing to take the chance to come see me sing my songs then that’s something I take very seriously. If you’re not entertained then I didn’t do my job.” Jeff Daniels opens this season’s 1200 Club in the Scott Recital Hall at the Holland Center, 1200 Douglas St., Wednesday, Nov. 3, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $45. Visit omahaperformingarts.org.

posted at 08:18 pm
on Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

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