Hornsby and the Noisemakers perform at Nitefall
on the River, Wednesday, June 20 at the
Simon Estes Amphitheater. The concert starts
at 7 p.m. with opening act Cornmeal. Tickets
are $25 and $30.
If you’re only familiar with Bruce Hornsby
thanks to a quarter-century-old pop song, you’re
missing the bigger picture. For more than three
decades of music, Hornsby has developed a reputation
as a tireless worker and endlessly creative
song writer. His jazz roots are the grounds
for his willingness to experiment with his sound
and the driving force behind his creativity.
It’s also the impetus for his live shows, which
have long been known for their free-flowing,
Hornsby in concert is an organic affair. He
eschews set lists, preferring to shape his shows
based on audience feedback. And while he’s toured
extensively as both a solo act and as part of
a band, he clearly has a preference.
“They’re very different things,” said Hornsby
in a phone interview from Virginia. “Performing
solo is more interactive with the audience.
It’s a little easier because, as the Troggs
said, ‘there’s only one fucking mind on it.’
So there’s less to worry about. But with a band,
there’s definitely more ways to open things
up and have fun.”
Hornsby knows a thing or two about having fun
with a band, having performed as the Grammy-winning
Bruce Hornsby and The Range, as well as spending
time with The Grateful Dead and with his current
act, Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers.
Despite a discography that includes more than
a dozen albums, most casual listeners know Hornsby
through his multi-platinum 1986 debut album,
“The Way It Is” and the title track’s iconic
piano hook. The album netted Hornsby the Grammy
for Best New Artist, and the track remains Hornsby’s
highest-charting single to date, hitting No.
1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Eventually the song
would undergo a re-birth of sorts, being sampled
by several rap artists — something that taps
into Hornsby’s own penchant for re-invention.
“It’s been sampled many times,” Hornsby said.
“Tupac (Shakur), E-40 did one, Snoop Dogg did
one, I believe…and I LOVE the Tupac song. I
think it’s brilliant. I also really like what
E-40 did with it. Some of it has been very good.”
Hearing his own work sampled and re-imagined,
and given his improvisational nature, does Hornsby
ever wish he could mulligan his early efforts?
“ ‘The Way It Is,’ yes, ” he said. “(1998 solo
album) ‘Spirit Trail,’ no. I actually feel like
‘Spirit Trail’ holds up really well. In fact,
many of my hardcore fans consider it to be the
strongest album. If you want to know what Hornsby
is all about, listen to ‘Spirit Trail,’ or one
of the newer (Noisemakers) albums.”
In an attempt to capture the unique feel of
each live performance, Hornsby has offered soundboard
recordings of his live concerts for most of
the past decade. But Hornsby is selective of
which concerts are made available.
“A lot of it just comes down to how ‘on’ we
are that night,” he said. “Some bands will just
release every show they do, and that’s fine
if it works for them, but that’s not me. Sometimes
there are a lot of clams (mistakes) in a show,
and I don’t want that out there. And we know
it when it happens. We’ll come off stage and
be like ‘well that was a clam bake.’ ”
But the big risk/big reward gamble is an accepted
part of performing when your live shows are
as free-wheeling and lucid as Hornsby’s — a
gamble best summed up in Hornsby’s own words:
“We strive for transcendence.” CV