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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 11:59 am | Fair 62º


Jeff Moehlis: The Dude Sings!

Academy Award winners Jeff Bridges and T-Bone Burnett headline Sings Like Hell's 200th show

Fourteen years ago, Peggie Jones started the Sings Like Hell concert series to “put great artists in the presence of a great audience.” Boy, has it succeeded.

T-Bone Burnett, left, and Jeff Bridges after Saturday night's performance for Sings Like Hell's 200th show.
T-Bone Burnett, left, and Jeff Bridges after Saturday night’s performance for Sings Like Hell’s 200th show. (John Conroy photo / www.johnconroyimages.com)

Over the course of 200 shows — many of which featured two artists — the series has showcased a mind-boggling array of talent. Some of the better-known alums are David Crosby, Jackson Browne, Randy Newman, Richard Thompson, Emmylou Harris and Roger McGuinn. Other names that jump out are Leo Kottke, Van Dyke Parks, Alison Krauss, John Doe and Nick Lowe, but the list literally goes on and on.

For the series’ 200th show on Saturday night, the headlining act was Jeff Bridges and T-Bone Burnett.

Bridges is no stranger to Sings Like Hell, being a longtime subscriber and supporter of the series. He is, of course, best known as an actor, with notable roles in movies including The Last Picture Show, The Fisher King, Tron, Fearless and The Big Lebowski, in which he is “The Dude.” Arguably, Bridges is at his acting prime, with back-to-back Best Actor Academy Award nominations for Crazy Heart (which he won) and True Grit.

Burnett may not be as famous as Bridges, but he has certainly left his mark on music, having produced albums for artists including Elvis Costello, Roy Orbison, Los Lobos, Kottke, Spinal Tap (!), Robert Plant, Krauss, Elton John, Leon Russell, Willie Nelson, B.B. King and many others.

Burnett also has produced movie soundtracks such as O Brother, Where Art Thou? and Crazy Heart. Notably, Burnett shared the Academy Award with Ryan Bingham for Best Original Song for “The Weary Kind” from the latter film.

After Jones, resplendent in a red gown, opened by joking that “here’s a day I never thought would come,” the show started with a short set by Santa Barbaran Glen Phillips from Toad the Wet Sprocket and Works Progress Administration. Phillips certainly is a presence in town with concerts and guest spots in various roles, often for charity. He is also no stranger to Sings Like Hell, having performed in the series several times. His set included WPA songs “End This Now” and “Rise Up,” the latter being accompanied with impossibly beautiful pedal steel guitar courtesy of Greg Leisz.

After Phillips’ set, Burnett, guitarist Buddy Miller and the rest of the band sans Bridges came out and played a rousing version of “The Wild Side of Life,” made famous by Hank Thompson.

Burnett then introduced Bridges as the “Blake of our modern-day actors,” pointing out that he meant William Blake, not the down-and-out character Bad Blake that Bridges played in Crazy Heart, or, for that matter, Robert Blake. Bridges then came out and the band launched into “Hold On You,” and Bridges quickly realized that his guitar was not plugged in. But The Dude abides — no problem, he got right on track. Incidentally, Bridges pointed out that one of the writers of this and other of the evening’s songs, John Goodwin, was in the audience.

What followed was a set of well-crafted and well-executed country tunes, many of which were from Crazy Heart, including several written by the late Stephen Bruton, who died of cancer shortly after the movie was completed. They also played Sings Like Hell alum Greg Brown’s “Blue Car” and “Brand New Angel,” the latter being in a lower vocal range that suits Bridges particularly well. There was also a nice cover of Tom Waits’ “Never Let Go” from the movie American Heart.

After guitarist Buddy Miller sang a couple of songs — the rocking “Fire and Matches” and the reflective “That’s How I Got to Memphis” — Bridges closed a Goodwin tune with a heartfelt perspective on the recent disaster in Japan, pointing out that the ripples reaching our shores let us know how connected we all are. The main set finished up with “Somebody Else,” with the clever lyrics “I used to be somebody / but now I’m somebody else.”

Bridges and the gang returned for an encore with the Oscar-winning “The Weary Kind,” then closed with “Fallin’ & Flyin’,” with the memorable lyrics “It’s funny how falling feels like flying for a little while.”

Bridges and Burnett met years ago when working on the movie Heaven’s Gate — Burnett joked that the rather small applause that the mention of the movie got during the concert was because “all the people who were applauding were the ones who saw it.” While it took awhile for their relationship to take a serious musical turn, the time has come.

An album will be coming out in August, and Saturday night’s show points to a promising second career of sorts in music for the man who was The Dude, and much, much more.

Noozhawk contributor Jeff Moehlis is an associate professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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