Live: Bruce Hornsby,
Shepherds Bush Empire, 28th January
What do you know Bruce Hornsby for; I’ll lay money that it’s for his 1986 hit “The way it is”. This track led to the first of Bruce’s three grammys when the following year he picked up the new artist award.
I suspect that the marority of the night’s audience were in a similar situation and here lies the problem.
Perhaps not suprisingly, Bruce has moved on in the past 25 years. A brilliant pianist and acclaimed songwriter his musical journey has ventured from the pop that people may know him for through bluegrass classical and jazz.
There was no big stage production for this evening in fact it was just Bruce and a piano. I’m not sure if the “set” design was there to focus our attention on Bruce or if the lighting guy fell asleep but there were no lighting changes at all. I mean NO CHANGES. The lights that were set at the beginning remained there throughout.
There wasn’t even the type of syncopation or stressing of the music with the lighting changes. Was this due to Bruce’s improvisation tendencies. Surely even with the improvisation a competent lighting tech could have added texture and emotion!
Although I think 50% of the sold out audience failed to get what Bruce brought to the show it was amazing to see his prowess on piano. This was a showcase few could fail to be impressed by.
He also showed why he is used by other musicians when he played “I Can’t Make You Love Me” that Bruce played on with for Bonnie Raitt and “The end of innocence” that he wrote with Don Henley.
His song writing is another area that impresses me about Bruce. Listening to Bruce and his relaxed tales he reminded me of Randy Newman. He told a tale about a song he had written about the property tycoon Donald Trump. This is due to be featured in a Spike Lee musical called SCKBSTD (yes they removed the vowels!). Bruce recounted the time when he saw the aforementioned Trump at a basketball game and confronted the man himself telling him he wrote a song about him with that name. Whilst it was no doubt funny it wasn’t exactly accurate as the track is called “The Don of Dons”. Trump took it well and promised to go see the production when it hit Broadway.
The first half of the performance moved along swiftly however I felt the second half took a distinct downturn. It felt self-indulgent and seemed to disregard most of the audience. Whilst Bruce was playing lots of tracks requested by the hard-core section of audience, there was just too much experimental sounding piano meandering. Another factor not helping the second half was a fairly consistent buzz from the left hand speaker stack.
There were already small sections of the audience taking their leave before Bruce played around with “The Way it is”, teasing the audience with phrases from the song intermingled with lots of extemporising piano. It felt like he didn’t want to play the track so was doing it reluctantly and in a petulant manor.
I can understand how the legacy of the song must at times be a mill stone around his neck, however it shouldn’t be forgotten that it is why most people know him. Hard as that must be at times.