Bruce Hornsby: LIVE IN CONCERT – MGM Grand, Mashantucket, CT (March 27, 2009) – REVIEW

Originally posted 2009-03-28 23:43:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

Right off the bat, I have to address how proud I am of myself that I was able to suppress the strong urge to title this concert review “That’s Just the Way It Was.”  As tempting as it was, I’m sure it’s already been used somewhere by someone…

At 8:02 on Friday night at the MGM Grand, only two minutes after the official start time of the concert, Bruce Hornsby appeared unceremoniously by walking out of the shadows, approaching his piano from stage right.  No announcements, no opening band.  (For a moment, I thought this might be a technician coming out for one last equipment inspection – and, if you’ve ever seen America perform, you know how many times it’s possible for a techie to inspect and tune  the guitars!)

As he neared the piano, he surveyed the assortment of papers strewn about the top of his piano.  Notes to himself?  A set list?  Lyrics for the less familiar tunes?

Negative, on all accounts.

Apparently, Hornsby does not work from a setlist.  Instead, he takes in requests from the audience before shows in the form 0f handwritten song titles slipped onto the stage.  His offical website reports, “Yes, it’s true. Bruce does not have a set list for his concerts. He comes up with the set list through requests from the audience. So, if you attend a concert, be sure to carry paper to write your requests on and place them on the stage.”  This is a novel approach, to be certain.  I wanted to participate in the process, but I have only been a “greatest hits” fan.  Aside from that, I would have had to design a paper airplane that was a marvel of physics in order to have my request reach the stage from my seat in the “Parterre” section of the MGM Grand theater, which is French for orchestra seats (and, apparently, English for “far away from the stage, but still technically on the ground level”).

After a brief, positive commentary from Hornsby about the array of requests, he started into the first song.  From the moment his hands touched the keys, it was apparent that he is truly a masterful musician, one of the few that is able to blend intricate classical arrangements into catchy pop/rock, country, and bluesgrass songs.

His first couple selections were played alone, but he was soon joined onstage by the Noise Makers (J.T. Thomas on keyboards, Bobby Read on saxophones (etc.), J.V. Collier on bass, Doug Derryberry on lead guitar, and Sonny Emory on drums).  Soon after, they launched into the first song with which I was familiar.  “Every Little Kiss” was all piano riffs and rock’n roll catchiness.  Well, maybe more adult contemporary than rock, but…

This was the first of several “greatest radio hits” tracks that Hornsby and the Noise Makers performed, much to the delight of my father and I.  Overall, the set list was a diverse collection of the hits, the deep tracks, and covers.  Some were note-for-note replicas of studio versions, such as “The Good Life,” while others were stripped apart and turned inside out, like “The Way It Is.”  There was a definite, if controlled sense of a jam band mentality.  During the final jam of the main set, Hornsby slipped from one song to the next, folding in a couple of high-energy verses from Bob Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry.”  I had begun to tire of the jamming by the end of the show, and this fine touch really brought it all back home for me. (Please send your criticisms of that shameless pun to Chris, care of a comment below…)

At one point, Hornsby left the piano to strap on his accordion and take center stage for two songs.  As he approached the microphone with the new instrument, he commented that he had recently been with Levon Helm.  He introduced the following song by saying that this would please those in the crowd who enjoyed nostalgia, as this was a track from the band — namely, “Evangelne.”  The version did not disappoint and proved further that Hornsby is nothing if not an excellent multi-instrumentalist.

Hornsby was a personable, likable figure onstage.  In between songs, he kept a running commentary going, reflecting on the state of the economy and thanking everyone for coming out to see him perform all the same.  Early on, he revealed that Foxwoods management had told him to play for only 65 minutes.  Just over an hour for some who had paid $50 plus a “convenience” charge — that’s outrageous!  In his very laid-back manner, he said about as much and said they would stretch it to 90 minutes or so.  It sounded as if they told him that 65 minutes was the suggestion and 90 minutes was the outside limit.  He was true to his word, as the main set took the show’s running time to just over an hour and a half plus an encore.

Later on in the show, he expressed how happy he was that he remembered all the words to a track from his first album, a song that he played by request.

On the whole, this was a truly enjoyable concert.  I have an increased respect for Hornsby’s abilities as a pianist and performer, the Noise Makers were a flexible and vastly talented group, and the MGM Grand is a comfortable environment with excellent acoustics.  For my taste, there was too much of a jam band mentality on many of the selections — even Hornsby commented at one point that, due to the time limitations, the songs would be shorter than usual.  Maybe that’s not a bad thing, he said.  He continued, “There’s a fine line between self-expression and self-indulgence,” glancing with a grin to his bandmates.  I couldn’t agree more.

This concert was a bonding experience of sorts for me, as my father is a longtime fan of Hornsby and an even longer-time fan of the song “The Way It Is.”  While we both enjoyed the show, the low point of the show was indisputably their performance of the aforementioned hit single.  Aside from the initial keyboard blast of the familiar riff, the song was given a new, more jumpy tempo and the tune was stripped apart into an understated sequence of lines.  There was none of the charm of the studio version, and all biases being admitted, this version was nothing to brag about on its own.  For those five minutes, I appreciated what it must be like to attend a Dylan concert expecting to hear faithful versions of his hits, only to be met with deep tracks and rearranged versions.  Still, I maintain that the Dylan live experience offers up new and interesting, entertaining takes on his songs, whereas this was disappointing from all angles.

Regardless, the show as a whole was well worth the $35, and is an experience that I will remember fondly for years to come.  Part of that comes out of a bias, but this time a positive one!

Bob Dylan Live at the MGM Grand Theatre, November 2010 – The Weekend Review

Originally posted 2010-11-28 20:52:16. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Click HERE for the Set List!

By Chris Moore:

How many times do you suppose Bob Dylan has performed “Like A Rolling Stone” in his career?

I’d be willing to bet it stretches well into the four digit range.

Fortunately, there’s this great site that — thanks to internet records — has broken down his tour stats for the past decade, 2000-2009.  Thus, I can say with some certainty that he has performed “Like A Rolling Stone” live in concert 781 times in the first decade of the new millennium alone.

This is what it’s all come to: there is an abundance — some would say an over-abundance, and I would agree — of text available on Bob Dylan’s life and music.  These sources include everything from so-called “official” music sources such as Rolling Stone magazine to independent blogs (I am, of course, inclined to argue that the latter does include some excellent sites…).  The writers range from fans who write for the sake of fandom to that ever-broadening cast of self-proclaimed Dylanologists brandishing claims to varying degrees of expertise.

All this shuffle over a man who continues to write, perform, and (recently) record music at an extraordinary pace begs one essential question:

Where do my experiences, thoughts, and opinions fit into the ever-growing, ever-changing mix?

The honest answer will find you nearer to “they don’t” and “leave it to the professionals, kid” than any of us modern-day bloggers, Twitterers, and Facebookers really want to consider, so I trudge forward with my words.

I have been a Dylan fan since 2000, my sophomore year in high school and the first time in my life when I discovered the cathartic power of putting pen to paper.  Through studying Dylan and others, I soon found that there is a distinct separation between those who write purely for therapeutic release and/or self-aggrandizement and those who are willing to explore the roots and work to not only improve their writing but also to imbue it with significant thought and emotion.

Every year that I’ve seen Dylan (and I’ve seen him once a year for ten years), I’ve had this conviction reaffirmed.

Some shows are better than others, and frankly, I enjoyed last year’s July concert at New Britain Stadium more than last night’s (11/27/2010) MGM Grand Theatre performance in Mashantucket, CT.  Last summer, his songs were more rock-tinged than I’d heard them in several years, marked by George Recile’s thunderous drums.

For my money, there’s no better Dylan.

Last night, I rediscovered a Dylan embracing his country and blues roots, fronted once again by Charlie Sexton, a lead guitarist who should be considered by Dylan fans and critics with similar, if not the same, respect as earlier notables like Bloomfield and Robertson, if only for the revival of energy that he helped to foster in the band during his brief tenure (think: “Things Have Changed,” Love & Theft, and the Masked and Anonymous project).

The guitar work was arguably the highlight of the evening, Sexton and Dylan’s body language hinting at revisiting the onstage soloing duels they acted out during their concerts in 2002.  Dylan himself seemed less restrained than usual during the set, moving not only from keyboard to guitar but also confining himself to vocal and harmonica duties on several songs.  When he picked up the guitar, his hands strayed up and down the fretboard as per usual, but he also took on a couple of standout solos.

On the whole, the band produced strong six-string work with the acoustic guitar featured prominently at times, as well as the banjo and, more typically, lap steel.

The pinnacle of their prowess came with the best version of “Love Sick” I’ve heard, dancing with dissonance along the taut wire characteristic of this Time Out of Mind alum.

The set list itself was predictable to a degree if you’ve been paying any attention to recent sets — “Thunder on the Mountain” and “Jolene” being two of the sure bets — and yet Dylan continues to infuse an air of improvisation, choosing two Nashville Skyline tracks, the ever-enigmatic and enticing “Visions of Johanna,” and taking down the tempo for a heartrending take on “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.”  The visual aspect of this show was the most ambitious of any I’ve seen, combining a fantastic array of background images, video projected on the screen, and all around a shifting shadow motif; it was understated and not likely to win any awards for stage design, but added excellent visual accompaniment to the music.

While the fan in me desires purely to express the unadulterated joy of the evening, an emotion I truly and predominantly felt, it should be noted that several performances suffered from the same staccato near-drone that has characterized periods of Dylan’s live career since the seventies (see: “Shelter from the Storm” from 1979’s Live at Budokan).  Vocally, he shifted in and out of his comfort zone, crooning at one moment and crackling apart at the next.

And yet, for me, these aspects were overshadowed by the strength of the instrumental work, as much as by the indescribable respect and joy I found in the realization that this energetic, multi-layered concert comes at the tail end of Dylan’s fifth decade of live performances.

Phenomenal.

There’s no other word for a man who can strut onstage and sing “Like A Rolling Stone” for the 102nd time this year with as much passion and grit as he did forty-something years ago when he sang to unsettled audiences.

It’s a different sort of passion and grit, some of which can be heard quite literally in the gravel of his voice, but it’s the same rush of adrenaline that noticeably passes over the crowd when the lights come up on the “How does it feeeeel?” of the chorus.

Bob Dylan SET LIST – 11/27/2010 at the MGM Grand Theatre at Foxwoods, Mashantucket, CT

Originally posted 2010-11-28 01:52:54. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Click HERE for the Weekend Review!

SET LIST:

1. “Gonna Change My Way of Thinking”
2. “Lay, Lady, Lay”
3. “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”
4. “Tangled Up in Blue”
5. “Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee”
6. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”
7. “High Water (For Charley Patton)
8. “Visions of Johanna”
9. “Summer Days”
10. “Love Sick”
11. “Highway 61 Revisited”
12. “Workingman’s Blues #2”
13. “Thunder on the Mountain”
14. “Ballad of a Thin Man”

15. “Jolene”
16. “Like a Rolling Stone”