Maybe it was because I had just finished watching the series finale of “Breaking Bad” earlier in the day and was already drained from the emotional rollercoaster that is Walter White, Hank Schrader and Jesse Pinkman, but Jeff Daniels was a little too much for me. His set included everything from talking about colonoscopies (funny) to making fun of his “Dumb and Dumber” days (really funny) to singing a birthday ode to his wife (sweet) to discussing a song he wrote for a good friend who has since passed (rather depressing) to spending a good two to three minutes introducing Brad Phillips, Daniels’ accompanist on several different instruments, who is getting his doctoral degree at the University, and practically begging non-existent University HR reps to hire him (rather strange and awkward).
Daniels’ show was arranged to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Ark, and after a somewhat lengthy introduction by The Ark staff, they reached the main point: Daniels donated his fee to their fundraising campaign. This was obviously made a big deal of, and when Daniels came out, he started his show strong, making a crack about not only donating his fee, but also his sperm at the local sperm bank. The first 20 minutes of his show were spectacular — this is when all the funny came out (perhaps it was all he had in him). He would play a line or two of his opening song and then seemingly interrupt himself with those random thoughts about colonoscopies (apparently he’s already had two!) and “Dumb and Dumber,” although I’m sure it was all actually scripted.
Before I continue, though, I must say, there’s no doubt Jeff Daniels is extremely talented. Apart from his magnificent work as an actor in “The Newsroom,” “Good Night, and Good Luck.” and, let’s face it, “101 Dalmations,” he is also a very talented musician. His guitar work was flawless, his voice was smooth but growly at the same time, he really seemed to understand and feel the blues influences apparent in his work and his comedy songs were hilarious, including one he wrote as a tribute to Dave Letterman, which detailed a couple having sex every night while watching Letterman’s show: “How much fun the three of us had.”
Where it went wrong was the rest of the set, namely the song for his deceased friend. One of Daniels’ strong suits was that he gave a great introduction to all of his songs, which really made you understand why he wrote them and what inspired him. He gave a lengthy synopsis of how he wrote this song from a poem his deceased friend had written and how he sang it to his friend on his deathbed. It was quite touching. But, coming from a completely unserious beginning to land in a pool of sadness was quite the turn. The song, called “Roadsigns,” was beautifully written and quite the masterpiece, but it was difficult to enjoy it after thinking about Jeff Daniels shitting to high heaven in preparation for his colonoscopy. “Roadsigns” was also shortly followed by “Big Bay Shuffle,” a song about two drunk women Daniels met in a bar at 11 a.m. in the Upper Peninsula. Having been to Big Bay, I wasn’t surprised.
Daniels implied throughout the night that he wanted his set to be representative of life itself, and I suppose he did that. One minute you’re crapping your pants from sadness, and the next you’re peeing them from laughter. But maybe art shouldn’t always imitate life exactly. I just wish he would have picked one direction to go in or the other; “Breaking Bad” already had me feeling some type of way.
It’s also perhaps true that I didn’t get a feeling of cohesiveness from his set because I was probably the youngest person in the room by about 20 years.
The set ended approximately with a love ballad to Michigan and The Ark. The song itself was rather sleepy, although I could definitely see it appearing on a Pure Michigan commercial. Pure Michigan: The Home of Jeff Daniels, and many more, but mainly Jeff Daniels.