An elephant will be in the room Thursday when Jeff Daniels, the singer, songwriter and guitarist, performs at the Southgate House. That elephant is the simultaneous presence of Jeff Daniels, the acclaimed actor in such movies as Terms of Endearment, The Squid and the Whale, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Dumb & Dumber.
Daniels, the musician, doesn’t try to pretend that his “other” career doesn’t exist.
“I’m not interested in singing serious love ballads for 90 minutes,” he explains during a phone interview from his home state of Michigan. “Nor does the audience want that. They want the guy they really loved in whatever movie — they want to love him in this setting. So instead of ignoring this huge elephant in the room — the movie career — I use it.”
That works well for him because his set predominately consists of comic riffs, delivered talking-blues-style with monologue-like introductions, about his career and family life. It’s an observational stand-up act in a Folk-music-oriented format, like Loudon Wainwright III or (in Daniels’ sillier moments) Steve Martin. Those comic tunes then set up the occasional serious ballad like “The Michigan in Me” or “Grandfather’s Hat.”
Daniels’ inherently self-effacing nature — “I’ve never paid any attention to image; that’s something put upon you,” he explains — leads to him poking fun at his own career as a fine actor who’s never been regarded as a movie star. In other words, people he meets sometimes can take him for granted — they don’t feel the need to be awed or overly deferential.
As he relates in the talking-blues song “Here’s a Little Somethin’,” from his 2009 Live at the Purple Rose album: “I was in New York City not too long ago, in a taxicab. The cab driver looked into the rearview mirror, looked back at me and said, ‘You’re him.’ I said, ‘That’s right.’ He said, ‘What’s the name of that movie you were in I hated?’ ”
Jeff Daniels plays the Southgate House Thursday. Go here for tickets and venue details.