Posted Online: May 02, 2008, 9:52 am
Daniels delights crowd with his song, wit
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By Sean Leary,
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Photo: John Greenwood|
Songwriter, musician, stage actor, movie actor and playwright Jeffrey Warren "Jeff" Daniels performs at Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse Thursday night for a full house. The primarily dramatic actor is often remembered for his character in the movie Dumb & Dumber. Daniels, who grew up and currently lives in Michigan, writes songs about moments in his life.
ROCK ISLAND -- If he ever wants to give up the day job, Jeff Daniels could be the next Jimmy Buffett.
Daniels' excellent two-hour-plus show at Circa '21 Thursday night was a joy to behold -- a laid-back, amiable, tears-to-laughs charmer in the rumpled, humanistic Buffett mold.
It was also an unexpected gem. Given that most of the crowd probably came with Daniels' substantial film resume in mind and the hope that his live show could rise to anywhere near that pedigree, fans had to be elated at their reward for taking the chance.
"How many of you have no idea what I'm about to do?" Daniels asked as he sauntered on stage, clad in a floppy, blue, flannel shirt, faded jeans and a rumpled brown fedora. "And you paid for this!"
To chuckles and applause, he added, "Well, I drove in all the way from Michigan today, so I'm gonna have some fun."
He did. And it was infectious. For the entirety of the show, the audience remained rapt, whether stunned into silence by the beauty of Daniels' ballads, impressed by the sterling quality of his guitar-playing or cracking up at his priceless between-tune anecdotes about life, love and Hollywood.
Daniels had the crowd in his corner from the start, spinning an idiosyncratic tune with a local twist -- "Rock Island on a Thursday Night," which basically described his day and the concert to come, albeit in a far more amusing way than I've just summarized.
Loose and funny, Daniels excelled in unspooling self-deprecating tales. A story about working with Clint Eastwood led into "Dirty Harry Blues," an ode to the thrill of finally becoming one of the legend's on-screen victims.
However, don't get the idea that Daniels' night was a pompous exercise in name-dropping. Far from it. In the few instances when his fame became a topic, it was done in a way so natural, humble and funny that you would've thought he was talking about his days with the boys in the shop.
An amusing, slinking story about turning 50 ended with a send-up of "Entertainment Tonight" host Mary Hart and stumbled into "I Used To Be Good Looking, Now I Don't Look Good." Hardly the stuff of ego-stuffing.
Many of the tracks reminded me of Dave Barry columns set to music. Tunes about road rage, the romance of his first car and teaching his daughter how to drive were full of glib, grinning wordplay and chipper hooks.
On the opposite edge, "Mile 416" was an awesome example of his breathtaking balladry. What was most brilliant about the song reminiscing about seeing a roadside memorial during a long road trip was the combination of Daniels' cotton candy light set-up story and the sackcloth gray heaviness of the tune. The effect masterfully paralleled the moment that inspired the song -- the feeling of being ambushed by mortality and tragedy while on an ostensible joy ride.
In a more upbeat mode, recruiting an audience member to play along with him on the train whistle, Daniels churned up the crowd with the playful homage to his home state of Michigan, "I'm On A Detroit Train."
He continued the interactive aspect on "Hey, Do The Big Bay Shuffle," bringing up an ever-increasing number of "backup dancers" to swerve about in the titular song. The story of a trek to his wife's native Michigan upper peninsula had a goofy, winking way that brought a huge ovation.
Such was the case throughout the night. But, in a way, it was bittersweet. Circa initially had scheduled two shows for Thursday, but had to cancel one when ticket sales didn't live up to expectations.
However, I doubt that would happen again if Daniels returns.
I would be willing to bet that most of the roughly 100 people that showed up last night are going to be at work today telling everyone they know about what a great show they missed.
If Daniels does return, make sure to get your tickets. Actor, schmactor -- this guy knows how to put on one heck of an entertaining show.