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Hornsby offers the unexpected

By GREG HAYMES, Staff writer
First published: Monday, September 30, 2002

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* Pop/Rock music review
ALBANY -- Since earning a best new artist Grammy some 15 years ago, Bruce Hornsby has been anything but predictable, which is exactly what makes him so popular with his fans.

Back then, it seemed likely that he would follow the singer-songwriter route laid out by '70s folks like Jackson Browne and James Taylor, and he can certainly hold his own in those circles. (Witness his performance at SPAC back in '99 when he shared the stage with Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Shawn Colvin.)

But he's proven to be much more than that. He became a semi-regular member of the Grateful Dead and their later offshoot, the Other Ones, dishing out improvisational rock at a dizzyingly high level. And on his most recent spin through the Capital Region, Hornsby dazzled fans at Freihofer's Jazz Festival at SPAC in 2000.

On Sunday evening, Hornsby and his crackerjack band turned in a rock 'n' funk show of supreme portions as they kicked off the 2002-2003 concert season at The Egg in fine fashion. What's more, they gave the Egg's brand-new $800,000 sound system a thorough going-over, and it sounded just fine.

The current tour is in support of Hornsby's ripsnorting new album, "Big Swing Face," but the piano man seemed once again to avoid the obvious. Of the stellar new material, he played only "Cartoons and Candy," a funky little ditty that ended with a laughing solo. ( Yes, a laughing solo.)

And as he so often does, Hornsby tweaked the tune with bits and pieces of other tunes from the songbags of, in this case, Stevie Wonder and James Brown. You've got to admit that you probably didn't know that "Sex Machine" was in Hornsby's vast repertoire.

Perhaps Hornsby's most unexpected pairing was "Fortunate Son" paired with Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." Not only that, but he somehow made it work.

That was due in no small part to a mighty ferocious band, anchored by drummer Sonny Emory and bassist J.V. Collier, a rhythmic tandem who kept the funk flowing and the groove deep in the pocket, allowing Hornsby to fly far afield of the melody without missing a beat.

The other key factors in the band were guitarists Steve Kimock (who first played with Hornsby in the Other Ones back in 1998) and Doug Derryberry. Kimock's playing resonated with the fluid lines of the late Jerry Garcia, adding a decidedly Dead-like flavor to several tunes throughout the night, especially the gospelesque rave-up that finally closed the show more than three hours after it started.

BRUCE HORNSBY

When: 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: The Egg, the Empire State Plaza, Albany

Musical highlights: The churning rumble of "Spider Fingers" and the unlikely medley of "Fortunate Son" and "Comfortably Numb"

Length: Two 80-minute sets with one intermission

The crowd: A capacity crowd that spanned the generations from baby boomers to jam-band kids.

Last time in town: Hornsby's last stop in the Capital Region was as a featured performer at SPAC at Freihofer's Jazz Festival back in June 2000.


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