Music News & Reviews

Jeff Bridges brings his Americana band to Tacoma’s Pantages

If you see a bearded man with long, graying hair in a Tacoma bar Friday night, feel free to buy him a White Russian. The Dude won’t say no.

“I don’t turn ‘em down,” Jeff Bridges said in a telephone interview. “You get that quite a bit.”

The actor and musician will be in town with his band, The Abiders, for a show at the Pantages Theatre Friday in support of their recent self-titled live album. The group’s musical style might be called free range, but it’s best to let Bridges explain it.

“The first word that comes to mind is Americana,” he said and then laughed. “That’s kind of a loose term. We like to float around —country, rock, rootsy folk thing. There’s a jazz element in there. Pretty eclectic.”

You can almost hear The Dude.

The group’s name is a nod to the most well-known line uttered by his character, Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, in the 1998 cult classic “The Big Lebowski”: “The dude abides.”

Bridges’ long career has placed him in some of the most memorable movies of his generation. But he embraces The Dude as much as any other character he’s played.

“It’s one of my favorite movies I’ve been in and I think it’s one of my favorite movies whether I was in it or not. It was made by the Coen brothers and they know how to make movies,” Bridges said.

Bridges follows Zen Buddhism and meditates daily. Both influence his acting and music, he said. It was friend and Zen master Bernie Glassman who clued him in on the Zen sensibilities of The Dude after the movie was released.

“(Glassman) told me that in Buddhist circles, many people consider The Dude a Zen master. I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said ‘The Big Lebowski’ is full of Zen koans. He said let’s explore those and do a book.”

“The Dude and the Zen Master” came out in January.

Bridges’ long career has endeared him to generations of movie goers. He first came into the public’s consciousness on the late 1950s TV show “Sea Hunt” starring his father, Lloyd Bridges.

His career took after Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show” (1971) and includes “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” with Clint Eastwood (1974), “King Kong” with Jessica Lange (1976), “Tron” (1982), “Starman” with Karen Allen (1984), “The Fabulous Baker Boys” with his brother Beau and Michelle Pfeiffer (1989), “Fearless” with Isabella Rossellini (1993) and “Seabiscuit” with Toby McGuire (2003).

Bridges’ versatility means he can play an irascible U.S. Marshal in “True Grit” or a conniving megalomaniac in “Iron Man.” Younger audiences have gotten to know him in “The Giver” and will have another opportunity again soon in 2015’s “Seventh Son.”

But it was his Oscar-winning performance as Bad Blake in 2009’s “Crazy Heart” that lit a flame for Bridges.

“With ‘Crazy Heart,’ you’re putting the fire under the music. That was a dream come true, working with my old buddy T Bone Burnett,” Bridges said.

After “Crazy Heart,” Burnett and Bridges collaborated on an album.

“And then I thought, if I ever want to get into this music thing, now’s the time. So I asked my buddy Chris Pelonis to get a band together — musicians in Santa Barbara. He got all the best guys and we formed The Abiders.”

Music isn’t new to Bridges. “I’ve been doing music since I was a kid,” he said. It’s something he attributes to his parents. “My father was really into music, so was my mom. So music was always around our house.” He noted that his father replaced Richard Kiley in “Man of La Mancha” on Broadway.

In 2000, Bridges even put out an album, “Be Here Soon,” with Michael McDonald and Pelonis.

But The Abiders doesn’t represent a career change for Bridges.

“It was more shifting gears. I got into the high gear,” Bridges said. “It all comes from the same place. A place of creativity. Those things were encouraged by my folks.”

He’s passed the tradition on to his daughter, Jessie Bridges, who often opens for The Abiders.

“She’s such a great songwriter. We influence each other,” Bridges said. Jessie has been his assistant on several movies and they would play together during free moments.

Though music isn’t pushing aside Bridges’ movie career, it is slowing down.

“I’ve got my family and I spend time with them. I’m not working my career too much. I’ll do publicity for this album or movies. But I’m not going to many parties. Maybe that’s just my style. But maybe I’m just taking a cue from how my dad did it.”

Bridges is a modern renaissance man. He paints, draws, works in ceramics. His comprehensive website has several galleries of wide-angle photos he’s shot on the sets of his movies.

“I don’t see too much difference, whether you have a piece of clay or a guitar in front of you. You just go with it,” Bridges said, sounding very much like The Dude.