inky Friedman was his usual, engaging self while playing to a small - but attentive - crowd in one of Orange County's wealthiest cities. Campus Jax is so close to John Wayne Airport, even Friedman became momentarily distracted by the sound of a jet plane either taking off or landing overhead. He was not so distracted enough, though, that it took anything away from Friedman's smart, funny and surprisingly heartwarming performance.
Friedman revealed this softer side with the title track to his album "Resurrection," and especially on "A Dog in the Sky," about a favorite pet that had recently passed on. Friedman may have a reputation for a naughty sense of humor, especially exemplified by "Asshole from El Paso," but if that's all you know about this unique Texan, you're missing a huge tender upside to the man. He knows well how to write a heartfelt country song.
Along the way, Friedman told some jokes (most of which can't be reprinted here), read from one of his books and talked about his eventful life. One song, "Ride 'Em Jewboy," summarizes this unusual artist's disposition. His folks moved from Chicago to Texas when he was young, where he gained a western lifestyle while all the while retaining his Jewishness.
Friedman came on dressed in black and sipped on an adult beverage the whole night. He's no great shakes on acoustic guitar, nor is he an especially distinctive singer. He is, though, still engaged and quick-witted - even in his 70s, and a true joy to experience live. He's also as Americana as they come.
Phil Cody opened the show with a strong set of songs, with a set list that included a funny (but oh so true) song about the downside to buying a thousand-dollar car and a cover of Warren Zevon's "Mutineer." Cody, although far subtler than Friedman, is also a fine songwriter. His appearance made for one winning one-two punch double bill.