Cedar Rapids, IA (October 25, 2015)
“Two songs! Two broken strings! What is up with you people?”
So it was that from the start, the audience knew they were in for quite a ride with Jeff Daniels. Yes, that Jeff Daniels. “Arachnophobia” Jeff Daniels. “Dumb and Dumber” Jeff Daniels. “The Newsroom” Jeff Daniels. Only this was singer/songwriter Jeff Daniels, and he proved he could definitely give up his “day” job.
Most people know there are a lot of actors out there who have aspirations (or maybe ass-pirations) of being singer/songwriters. That’s certainly not the case with Jeff. He’s not aspiring to it, he is already there, and has been there for some time. For the packed house at CSPS Hall Sunday night, October 25, 2015, it was an unforgettable show that proved Jeff is just as talented as a musician as he is an actor.
He started off rowdy and got rowdier. Backed by his son Ben’s band (a rocking group in their own right) it was obvious from the start of the show that these guys (and girl) were out to entertain in a special way by making serious music without taking themselves too seriously. This was evidenced by the fact that it was a couple of minutes after Mel Andringa announced the band that they wandered onto the stage almost as if they had forgotten the were supposed to perform.
As a songwriter, Jeff Daniels has an eye for the world around him in which things others may overlook or not think about becomes inspiration for songs. Stylistically, he leans toward rough and tumble, rocking country with some interludes of classic folk and truly tender ballads. Most of his songs are ripe with humor ranging from the tongue-in-cheek to outright bawdy. With songs such as “How About We Take Our Pants Off and Relax” “Close But No Cigar” or “Crazy Right Now 50 Shades of Grey” he kept the audience in stitches with wry humor, taking seemingly common events as inspiration for uncommonly funny songs.
The guffaws grew silent as the other side of Jeff was revealed with quieter, more serious and thoughtful numbers. I especially liked the lovely ballad “When You Were Into Me”, presented simply with Jeff on guitar and his daughter in law Amanda on vocals. It’s a song about how seemingly perfect love fades over time, leaving bittersweet memories of how things used to be.
The stories behind the songs were equally funny and touching, and revealed Jeff as being unpretentious and even a bit self-deprecating when it came to his talent. He and his son’s band were having a total blast performing, and the audience happily joined in. For a few, it was literal, as a couple of young ladies were invited onstage to join in the “Big Bay Shuffle”, a song about the drinking prowess found at a bar in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
I also have to mention the brief set the Ben Daniels Band did without Jeff. They tore it up with an extended jam on an original, hard-driving rock number that showed off the talents of everyone in the band. I’d like to see Ben and his crew return for a performance all their own.
I’m not sure why it is that character actors such as Jeff Daniels can have such enormous talent as musicians. It’s almost unfair to the rest of us mortals that he is talented in so many ways. Maybe he sucks at sports, just to keep some sort of karmic balance.
Jeff Daniels with the Ben Daniels Band