I need to pay more attention to what's going on in the area. I would have loved to see this performance!
Review: Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers at the A2SF
Those of you who have followed Bruce Hornsby since the 80s and were prepared for something looser, more genre-bending: you weren’t disappointed. Those of you who remember Bruce from his 80s music and not much else: I hope you were ready for something other than studio album re-creations.
Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers made beautiful noise for two hours on Thursday evening at the Power Center to an appreciative audience that filled about three quarters of the Power’s seats. The Noisemaker’s singular talent -- aside from stunning musicianship -- is to make old new again, and to the audience’s delight, that’s exactly what happened. They also happen to be really good at making entirely new music, and we heard some of that as well. All this, despite a less-than-excellent sound mix and several technical issues that had Mr. Hornsby gritting his teeth.
The Noisemakers are bassist J.V. Collier, a twenty-year veteran of the band, as well as keyboardist/organist John “JT” Thomas and drummer Sonny Emory, who have played with Hornsby twenty-four and twelve years respectively. Summer 2014 marks the arrival of two new Noisemakers — fiddle/mandolin player Ross Holmes and guitarist Gibb Droll — as well as the departures of longtime members Bobby Read and Doug Derryberry. Holmes currently fiddles for Mumford and Sons, has played with hosts of Nashville titans as diverse as Ricky Skaggs and the Dixie Chicks. Droll has played guitar on various projects involving Keller Williams, Kevin Kinney, and Brandi Carlile.
Picking and choosing from their just-released album Rehab Reunion, as well as other Hornsby discography highlights like "The Way It Is," BH&N demonstrated their individual musical prowess through improvisational solos that spanned and twisted jazz, pop, bluegrass, and Americana genres in a way you will never hear in any other band.
More evidence of Bruce’s live concert experience and expertise: the mid-set featuring acoustic duos and trios out front served to mix up the sound, feel, and intimacy of the event. The band’s working motto: “Look at Bruce!” Whatever the song, every band members’ eyes were locked on Bruce as he would often point to a soloist without warning for an impromptu 12 or 24 bars. The band is tight and loose at the same time, knowing their stuff but subject to Hornsby’s split-second diversions.
Above it all, Bruce’s piano skills wowed the crowd as he created improvisational dances on the keyboard. Bruce Hornsby is not a technical perfectionist on the Steinway, but the musical emotion he generates through his from-the-heart meanderings give new life to his classics. The audience would hold our heads to prevent musical whiplash as he’d take an iconic song like "Valley Road" in a unique and re-syncopated direction with dulcimer (Hornsby), mandolin (Holmes) and shoulder-mounted washboard and spoons (Emory).
The evening’s best moment: a wandering, jazz-infused take-off on the 1989 collaboration between Hornsby and Don Henley, "The End of the Innocence." I would need to have recorded the live track to tell you how many improvisational turns this song took as it raced through styles and genres. I can only tell you that Bruce’s emotional keyboard interlude had the crowd ooh-ing, ahhh-ing and hooting approval.
A brief encore followed the satisfying performance with a surprise appearance from Jeff Daniels, who complained, “you guys play all this stuff in E-flat diminished 9th chords” and finished the night with Bruce and band in a rousing 3-chords-and-the-truth rendition of his "Go Henry David Go."
Bruce is my age, and I have grown up with him as he has blessed my life with some of the best music I can remember. Thursday night did nothing but drive my appreciation for him that much deeper. Don’t stop for a while, Bruce. Keep improvising. You’re not finished.
Don Alles is a marketing consultant, journalist, house concert host and musical wannabee, living in and loving his adopted home, Ann Arbor.