Words by: Brian Bavosa
Bruce Hornsby :: 05.03.07 :: McCarter Theater :: Princeton University, Princeton, NJ
As the lights dimmed, a mature applause arose from the mostly older audience at Princeton University's McCarter Theater. Looking like a gangly ex-high school basketball player, and dressed simply in a pair of blue jeans and black silk shirt with the sleeves rolled up, Bruce Hornsby waved hello and sat behind his glistening Steinway & Sons grand piano. He quipped, "I'd like to introduce you to the rest of the band for tonight; my left hand." It was the first of many lighthearted jabs, something Hornsby has become know for over his illustrious twenty-plus year career, especially during his solo performances.
The ticket price included a copy of Hornsby's four CD, one DVD box set, Intersections: 1985-2005, originally released in July of 2006. The collection is an impressive, career-spanning look at his evolution from pop chart topper to classical Bach imitator and Grateful Dead sidekick.
Classical was the way this show opened, then "Sticks and Stones," a slower number close behind. "Hooray for Tom" had Hornsby speaking about spelling bees and his son's love/hate relationship with school, while a new song about Donald Trump absolutely bashed the playboy in every way possible. However, it was Hornsby's lighthearted delivery that invoked laughs. He mentioned it was part of an upcoming Broadway musical he has been commissioned to write. Everything the man did was graceful, done with ease while holding the entire audience in utter awe and amazement. It has been an extremely long time since I was unable to take my eyes off of a performer. It did not matter what time it was, or who might be calling my cell, I was honestly enraptured by the man's presence and playing throughout.
A first set closer of That's Just the Way It Is," saw a mix of pop, classical, and candy corn vocals that were as sweet as the first time you taste the springtime. The second set was filled with requests, most of which people had laid on the stage before the performance or at set break. "Spider Fingers" made me think Hornsby was born with twice as many digits on his hands as the rest of us. "Mandolin Rain" had me wanting to experience heartbreak once more if it were half as beautiful as this number, but we all know it isn't. "Gonna Be Some Changes Made" was the one song I went into the show wanting to hear, although Hornsby says it's more about "drooling and skinny dipping" than the self-reflection I always interpreted it to be.
Another humorous number was "The Dreaded Spoon," which debuted in Princeton on May 31, 2005. Hornsby explained that his father used to keep a spoon in his glove box, and when he took the kids for ice cream, he never got his own, but rather took a giant scoop of theirs. I still do not think he's over it.
After relentless pestering, Hornsby eventually pleased the "hippie" contingent by playing the lone Grateful Dead tune of the night, an encore of "Standing on the Moon," which he said was a nod to his performance at the Berkeley Community Theater last year. It was a heart-felt moment that made time stand still in the room for a few brief minutes.
Hornsby is a true performer in every sense of the word. He manages to draw the crowd close like a wise grandfather with his comedic rants. Or better yet, the uncle you love to joke around with over the holidays. Hornsby represents simplicity surrounded by a strong sense of the classical and Americana, that borders on being overly cocky, but has the chops and "spider fingers" to back it up.
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