Artistic Extremes

So last Thursday Pam and I went to see Bruce Hornsby at Wolf Trap with a couple of friends. We go every year — it’s become a bit of a tradition — but even after seeing him perform any number of times, it never gets old. We try to get seats close to the front, on the left, so we can actually see his fingers dancing across the piano up close. It’s absolutely astonishing. But even more than the technical achievement, there’s the artistic: The whole first part of the set is sort of improvizational jazz — sure, there is enough of the studio version of his tunes to recognize, but that’s about it. The result is a whole new creation, mixing different tunes, going off on various riffs (which his band, the Noisemakers, picks up and expands on), and generally having a great time. At one point, he stopped and noted that he was being unusually discordant, and consciously decided to go a little more melodic for a while — but what was remarkable was that it wasn’t discord resulting from lack of attention, but discord that was entirely consistent and in keeping with the session. He may not have been consciously trying to be discordant, but artistically, he instinctively knew what he was doing.

After the jazz-like set (I hesitate to call it true jazz, as it’s still got a strong pop/rock component, but that’s the closest I can come to describing it accurately), he picked up his accordion and did a whole bluegrass segment. And then some solo piano whle the band took a break. And then back with the full band, still largely improvisational, but more conventional than the earlier stuff, with some Grateful Dead-toned material thrown in for good measure. And it wouldn’t be a Bruce Hornsby concert without inviting (at least part of) the audience up on stage to dance — a tradition that never fails to give the ushers and security folks ulcers. In fact, there was one fan who (after everyone had been ushered back off stage) managed to hide in the wings, and ran out to give Bruce a kiss mid-song; security was perturbed, but Bruce was utterly unfazed, and didn’t miss a note.

The connection with the audience was palpable — helped in no small part by the fact that the set list was completely made up of requests. The requests themselves — which used to be scribbled down on little scraps of paper piled up on stage before the show started — get more elaborate with each passing year, with full-color printouts and photos all vying for his attention. Unfortunately, the show wasn’t as well attended as in years past, so I fear that his annual concert at Wolf Trap may be on its way out. Which really would be a shame — for us, if not for him. Frankly, I think he’d be just as happy plaing small basement jazz clubs, so long as he could play, and with others who shared both his talent and enthusiasm.

I have got to pick up his new CD/DVD box set, Intersections. It can never substitute for the live show experience, but it’ll be a nice memento.

And then the next night, with the family about to head out of town to Virginia Beach for a long weekend (without me), I spent the evening with my daughters, watching their choice of entertainment.

The Cheetah Girls 2.

I never thought I’d see a film (and I use the term very loosely) that would make me sing the praises of Must Love Dogs. But this made that film look like Citizen Kane. We’re talking head-on-the-verge-of-exploding bad here. (Needless to say, I will not be picking up this DVD. Not without a fight, anyway.)

Still, I was with my little girls. So I didn’t complain.



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