Playing Catch-Up

Okay, in an attempt to catch up a bit after my pitiful absence from blogging, I’ll make the first of my outdated-but-still-hopefully-relevant entries.

In this case, I wanted to make a quick mention of the fact that Pam and I went to see Bruce Hornsby at Wolf Trap a couple of weeks ago. And yes, I’ll freely admit that the average age of those in attendance was slightly higher than, say, a Britney Spears concert. So yeah, I’m getting older.

But the thing I still love about Bruce Hornsby is that he is not only a phenomenal musician, but he’s never content to rely on his past glories. Sure, he’ll play his “hits,” but he’ll often do so in a style completely different from the original. In the studio, he’s made sure to truly experiment with each album he’s released, switching styles from mainstream pop, to rock, to bluegrass, to jazz... hell, on his last studio album, he even ventured into electronica (on the aptly titled “Try Anything Once”).

But on stage, Hornsby truly excels. For the most part, it’s hard to classify this as jazz, but spiritually, it comes about as close as I can imagine. There’s no established “set,” with the exception of some notes — Hornsby takes requests, and pretty much plays whatever he feels like at the time. Frankly, the ability of the band to follow his lead was impressive in and of itself — especially from the Jerry Garcia-influenced guest guitarist (and Bruce’s nephew) R.L. Hornsby. Bruce understands how to create a show, never sacrificing substance for style. Each concert is different, and you can’t help feeling that you’re peeking in at an impromptu, improvised jam session. No wonder he was tapped to step in as keyboardist for the Grateful Dead after the death of Brent Mydland (back in 1990; Bruce continued touring with them until March of 1992).

Still, for something that appears so off-the-cuff, it remains apparent how much effort truly goes into it. Hornsby has developed not only into an accomplished musician, but a bandleader, giving subtle yet effective direction to the group without missing a beat. All in all, a phenomenal show, and one I’d recommend anyone make an effort to see (the tour continues across Europe through September, then will be returning stateside in October).

Of course, it didn’t hurt to see sax player Bobby Read adjusting his mix using a 15-inch PowerBook G4.


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