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Review Tue Aug 26 2014
There is a pretty good chance you know Jeff Daniels from his acting roles. He has endlessly shown his acting proficiency, whether it's the nostalgically classic comedy Dumb and Dumber, his more serious turn in The Squid and the Whale, or roles that straddle the line between the two like in The Newsroom. What you may not know is that he is a very talented musician, playing guitar in a variety of genres including blues, jazz, folk, and a little bit country. He's been doing so for over well over a decade, taking his career as a musical artist as seriously as his acting. His ability to entertain as an actor spills over greatly into his music, making him even more of a storyteller than he already was. This past weekend, Jeff Daniels returned to SPACE for a sold out show.
Right off the bat one could tell the Jeff Daniels is incredibly comfortable on stage. He and his son's group, The Ben Daniels Band, began the show with a couple of songs before coming to Daniels first story of the night. It was the beginning of a great pattern, seamlessly transitioning from tales of his life to his wonderfully sincere songs. Through out the night he spoke of encounters with Jack Lemon, local pastors, and overstressed moms at malls with the same zeal. There was no pretense during his singing or storytelling. His performance honestly felt like it came from a different era, where a musician's relatability wasn't faked as it simply was cultivated by genuineness. It made the room feel like an inviting home with Daniels at the head of the table.
Many of his song fall under more fun and uplifting numbers like "Go, Henry David, Go" which follows along the rhythm of "Johnny B. Goode" or "A Little Bit Strange". However it was the songs that carried a heavier weight that left a deeper impression with lyrics like "I'm in the mood to make deathbed decisions" and the lamenting sigh of "even the blues don't help". "Back When He Was Into Me", a sad ballad of better times lost sung by back up vocalist Amanda Merte, created one of the biggest highlights of the night. It showed Daniels at his best, peacefully strumming his guitar as his lyrics were gracefully floated in the room.
Around the middle of the set the elder Daniels let the stage to allow his son and band to take over the show the small interlude in the set took a substantially different and entertaining path. Their first song "Babydoll" was a good start, likening itself to the more folk elements of the night. It's the songs that followed showed off the sharper edge that the band has. Ben Daniels gave the crowd full warning by letting them know that the next few songs were a little rowdier, leaning more towards rock and roll. "Rattlesnake" delivered on the rock and roll, but it was the loose cover of the Allman Brother's "Midnight Rider", that brought the rowdiness which included an aptly long and fun medley in the middle of the song.
Jeff Daniels returned to finish up the night, taking his already inviting atmosphere up a notch. He recalled buying three cigar box guitars from Mike Snowden while filming "Dumber and Dumber To" which the band then used for "Close, But No Cigar". The three cigar box players strutted around with adorable choreography that was peppered with Amanda Merte's playfully sexy singing of the chorus. Daniels then brought an audience member up to dance the "Big Bay Shuffle" and another to play the train whistle during "Detroit Train". The look of utter enjoyment was very apparent on Daniels' face, practically reveling in it as he urged the crowd to get in touch with their inner Fred Flintstone a belt out the familiar exclamation during the final song.
The band returned for a two song encore that truly gave credit where credit was due. Daniel introduced "Rollin' And Tumblin'" as cover of a cover, paying as much gratitude as he could to Hambone Willie Newbern and McKinley Morganfield or Muddy Waters as he is better known. Daniels gave every member of the band a moment to perform a solo as the song came barreling to its end. He eagerly exclaimed each of their names as they stepped off stage. George Merkel on guitar, Tommy Reifel on bass, Wesley Fritzemeier on drums and mandolin, and Amanda Merte on vocals had their right place in the spotlight before leaving only Jeff and Daniel alone on stage. They performed a wonderful and tear jerking song that Daniels had written for his son. It was touching end to a really genuine display of Jeff Daniels musical talents.