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Evening with Bruce Hornsby well worth it

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By Andrew W. Griffin – “The Red Dirt Reporter”

Editor, Red Dirt Report,

Posted: April 4, 2008

MIDWEST CITY – Telling the audience that it was his first visit to Oklahoma in 15 years, jazz-pop pianist Bruce Hornsby performed a terrific solo show for a little over two hours Thursday night at the Rose State Performing Arts Center.

With a stack of written song requests, scribbled on paper of different sizes and colors, on the stage, Hornsby smiled, sat down at his Steinway and got right down to it, opening with the amusing “What the Hell Happened,” from 2004’s “Halcyon Days.”

This song helped set a largely light-hearted and intimate mood to the show, which featured plenty of people who wanted to hear particular songs, including a guy who kept yelling “Jack Straw,” a song Hornsby sang and performed on with The Other Ones, a spin-off of The Grateful Dead, the classic rock band Hornsby also played with in the early 1990’s.

This Dead connection was not overlooked by Hornsby, who opted to perform a heartfelt version of the Jerry Garcia-sung “Standing on the Moon,” a song Hornsby said had meant a lot to him in recent months. As a side note, Hornsby – who had been a good friend of the late Garcia and still jams and hangs out with the other Dead members - said he has worked up a song called “Cyclone” with Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. It will appear on his next record.

But it goes without saying that it was the Hornsby originals the audience was hoping to hear. And Hornsby did not disappoint, pulling out songs from every corner of his catalog, including “The End of the Innocence,” a Hornsby original that Don Henley made into a major hit in 1989 and a song that remains vibrant and vital to this day.

His 1988 hit with his former band The Range, “The Valley Road,” had been clearly reworked into an entirely different animal. It was looser and funkier and bluesier.

This was followed by “Talk of the Town,” from 1993’s jazzy album “Harbor Lights.”

What was particularly fun to watch was between songs when Hornsby appeared to improvise and jam. This, I suspect, was honed during his 100 dates playing with the Grateful Dead.

Among his most interesting segues was “A Night on the Town” and “Halcyon Days.” These two just go together like coffee and pie and I loved the Oklahoma reference of Sallisaw.

Midway through the show, Hornsby delved into some music he’s written for a Broadway musical he’s working on called “SCKBSTD” (short for “Sick Bastard” seen on a Virginia license plate, Hornsby said). The subject matter seemed a bit dark as Hornsby performed a song – “The Black Rats of London” - which seemed historical – references to Jamestown and Yorktown – delves into unseemly topics including the spreading of “natural juices.” Hornsby chuckled and muttered something about it being about “the unsung heroes of American history.” Hmmm.

But the revered pianist tickled the ivories beautifully when he performed his biggest hit ever, “The Way It Is,” a song about racism and the civil rights era. Known for addressing those sorts of topics in his songs, Hornsby said it was appropriate to play it, here on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

With his interest in bluegrass, and love of Bill Monroe, Hornsby performed the folk song “Darlin’ Cory,” which he had recorded a few years back with Ricky Skaggs. One of the show’s highlights soon followed with another Skaggs/Hornsby composition, “The Dreaded Spoon,” a bouncy, childlike song about an ice cream cone. Fun stuff!

While Hornsby did perform “Mandolin Rain” during his two-song encore, noticeably missing were “Look Out Any Window,” “Across the River” and “Jacob’s Ladder,” a song he wrote and was made into a hit by Huey Lewis & The News. But it’s not a big deal. The entire time, Hornsby was engaging, funny and laid-back. Plus, just getting a chance to hear this master of the piano incorporate jazz, blues, folk, pop and other styles into a single evening was a treat enough for me.

Copyright 2008 West Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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