Election Section

Bruce Hornsby making noise in Berkeley, CD

by Timothy Lynch Special to the Daily Planet
Friday November 03, 2000



Want to know why Bruce Hornsby didn’t disappear – as so many do – after his initial string of pop hits, beginning in 1986?  

Check out his new, two-CD live set, “Here Come The Noisemakers,” or his concert at the Berkeley Community Theater, Saturday. It will soon become clear why Bruce Hornsby is an artist in music as a career, not a one-hit wonder. 

Bruce Hornsby’s shows are highly regarded affairs in which his tightly constructed songs are opened up wide. Many are completely reinvented, a new arrangement improvised on the spot. “Valley Road” was a Southern-inflected ditty, on “Here Come The Noisemakers” it is more a moody power ballad.  

In part because of this type of almost re-composing his songs on the fly, but also because of the wide range of music he is interested in, Hornsby is able to make his shows stylistically diverse.  

His concerts feature songs from the bluegrass, jazz, rock and pop idioms, often in various blends during one song. 

Bruce Hornsby has also begun approaching virtuosity on  

the piano. 

He was a very good piano player when he first hit the charts in 1986. 

By the time the tracks on “Here Come The Noisemakers” were recorded, between 1998 and 2000, Hornsby had become a great piano player.  

The introduction to “The Way It Is” and “King Of The Hill” reveal exceptional improvisational skills that erase the boundaries between jazz and classical playing; here and elsewhere Hornsby proves he’s worked really hard to develop his left hand skills to the point they were on par with his right, while continually raising the bar for both hands.  

One can not really imagine the Bruce Hornsby of 1986 playing a two-week run at Yoshi’s jazz club in Oakland, but by the end of the 1990s it made perfect sense, as the tracks on this collection that were recorded at the world-famous jazz venue demonstrate. 

The band is up for the task, as the bass, drums, guitar, and organ accompanying him are superb in every style; the bass player is especially phenomenal as a jazz soloist.  

Of course Hornsby also adds some accordion to the mix at times, if only to lighten things up. 

Hornsby pays tribute to the influence of the Grateful Dead on his work. 

He had a Dead tribute band with his brother in the mid-70s, long before he joined the Dead for a two year, transitionary period in 1990. 

He does covers of “Lady With A Fan” (from the “Terrapin Station” suite), an almost aching version of “Black Muddy River,” and perhaps most powerfully, by taking the riff from “China Cat Sunflower” and making a whole new dance tune from it, “Sunflower Cat,” and later adding “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry,” a Bob Dylan song the Dead also covered, to the same offbeat boogie groove. 

As a member of The Other Ones (TOO), which features guitarist Bob Weir and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, all of the Grateful Dead, among others, Hornsby seemed to have developed a special musical bond with Bay Area guitarist Steve Kimock (TOO, Zero, Steve Kimock Band).  

The two often seem to share an enhanced sense of musical communication even as ensembles play around them.  

This was true during the TOO tours in 1998 and 2000, as well as when Kimock shared the stage with Hornsby at Yoshi’s in 1998 and 1999, some of which is documented on “Here Comes The Noisemakers.” 

Kimock will again join Hornsby on stage on Saturday night at the BCT. 

Hornsby’s voice often sounds like the very ideal in the idea of Southern hospitality as he explores a wide range of adult emotions in his lyrics. 

“Mandolin Rain” is a watercolor poem depicting a scene and a feeling, for example, while “Rainbow’s Cadillac” is a more cinematic tale of a revivalist preacher and/or snake oil salesman. 

In short, “Here Comes The Noisemakers” is an excellent representation of Hornsby’s recent concerts, which are good reason to be glad he’s in it for the long haul, not a fly-by-night sensation. 

Those attending the concert at the Berkeley Community Theater are likely to experience the same feeling.