Bruce Hornsby at Anaheim House of Blues

By Lorraine Kay

Anaheim, CA — Bruce Hornsby performed July 20, in Anaheim at the House of Blues to a packed house.  But the concert seemed less like a concert and more like a visit with an old friend at home. Hornsby sat relaxed at the piano taking requests and joking with the audience for three hours with a slight break in the middle.

The audience ate up the interactive play with Hornsby, shouting out requests and sending handwritten notes to the stage. Hornsby graciously did his best to grant all requests, sometimes fumbling through half forgotten tunes as his band, now known as The Noisemakers, silently stood by, but nobody cared. The fact that Hornsby seemed to be enjoying himself being up close and personal with his fans set the mood for a great evening of music for all.

It was a special night for all, but to the band “that’s just the way it is”, working with Hornsby. “I enjoy playing in this band with Bruce and the guys because the music is challenging and above all we have a good time,” said bassist J.V. Collier.  Drummer Emory likes playing with Hornsby because “Bruce’s music really lets a drummer stretch out and have fun!”

On his web site Hornsby comments on his philosophy about live performing, “To be creative, spontaneous in the moment and make music in the present tense, that’s what we’re all about live. I write the songs, we make the records and then the records become a departure point, the basic blueprint, the basic arrangement. I’m fairly restless creatively. I was never a very good Top 40 band guy because I never liked to play the same thing every time. Too often songwriters approach their songs like museum pieces. I don’t subscribe to that. I think of my songs as living beings that evolve and change and grow through the years.”

In an exclusive interview with keyboardist John “J.T.” Thomas, he tells how playing with Hornsby is an intense experience, “The entire band has to watch Bruce all the time because we never know what he is going to do.  A lot of the time he doesn’t have a set list and he never plays a song the same way.”

It was evident throughout the concert that Thomas was exactly right, as each song seemed to evolve on its own. It was as if Hornsby was enjoying the evolution himself, not knowing until that moment where the song was going to take him. Sometimes a song would slip into another tune without skipping a beat. The exciting part of it all was that everyone in the venue was experiencing a totally unique performance.

Joining Hornsby and Thomas on stage was the rest of The Noisemakers featuring. Bobby Read on sax,

JV Collier aka (Poppy Alexander) on bass, Doug Derryberry on guitar and Sonny Emory on drums, Also joining the band on stage was ex-Range member guitarist Peter Harris who joined the band for a couple of tunes including a medley of “The Changes”, “Long Tall Cool One”, and “Manhattan Island Serenade” and later to add his jazz licks to “The Show Goes On”.  

In addition to performing some of his greatest hits like “End of the Innocence” and “The Way It Is” and a few new tunes, he paid tribute to a few friends, performing a few covers including Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”, which he performed with PF and Roger Waters some time ago.  He performed the tune as part of a medley with his own composition “Fortunate Son”. Hornsby explained that after performing the PF tunes that he decided to write a song with the same feel as the PF tune. The final result was “Fortunate Son”. He also did a cover of one of Leon Russell’s early songs, “I Put A Spell On You” as part of a medley within “Jacob’s Ladder.

Hornsby, a three-time Grammy winner has sold more than 10 million records since his multi-platinum debut in 1986. Original the way, his web-site acknowledges his creative as he draws from a wide array of influences–among them jazz, pop, classical, bluegrass, rock, vaudeville and sounds both swinging and downright uncategorizable–to create his most sublime and elegant collection to-date, “Halcyon.”  In the mix, after nearly 20 years he still brings his patented blend of playful lyrical whimsy and formidably refined musicality to the table. “There’s a variety of musical materials,” he admits talking about “Halcyon”, before adding, “there’s some funny words in there too.”

“I always wanted my music to have a real strong sense of place,” Hornsby added. “And I’ve always wanted to find a place in my music to express good playing also. I’m someone for whom playing the instrument well is really important.”

Hornsby is always true to his word and to his fans, but in before it was all done he admitted to the audience a guilty moment as he offered “Gonna Be Some Changes Made” to the audience, from the 2004 CD release “Halcyon Days”, his ninth full-length album and first for Columbia Records, after a making a disclaimer about selling out to Lowe’s Home Improvement, which is using the tune as part of their latest advertising campaign. He joked about the use of the song and accepted from a Lowe’s employee in the crowd, a tool belt imprinted with the Lowe’s logo. He said laughingly, that he wasn’t sure how the song fits; it is about a stabbing and skinny-dipping.

The band just seemed to be having fun all night adding to the enjoyment of the audience. Hornsby took as many opportunities as he could to inject other tracks from “Halcyon Days” into the set. From the samples played it was easy to see that the album evokes hope for the future and memories of the past while appreciating, just as his web site says. But, Hornsby said it best, “Great days, beautiful peaceful days when they happen in these times.”