Concert Review: Bruce Hornsby @ Troy Music Hall, 03/23/2023

There are certain guitarists you can identify after a couple of notes, regardless of the song being played.

SRV, EVH, Allan Holdsworth, Carlos Santana, Jeff Beck, Pat Metheny, and Brian May, to name but a few. All have, or had a signature sound, a way of transmitting their personality through their instrument.

Bruce Hornsby performs for fans at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. (Lauren Halligan – Medianews Group)

Piano players, not so much. Working with an acoustic instrument with just a couple of foot pedals, not for them an array of gizmos, pedals, whammy bars, slides, voicings, amp and speaker combos, hence much more difficult to establish a recognizable and unique to them sound.

Bruce Hornsby is a notable exception to this “rule.”

Armed with just his voice and a Steinway concert grand, he held a sold-out crowd’s rapt attention for 2 hours at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall Thursday night.

Hornsby’s sound came fully formed with his very first release, 1986’s “The Way it is.”

In a decade awash with synthesized blips, burbles, and whirs, booming gated drums, programmed robotic beats, and mechanical dance grooves, Hornsby’s sparse and elegiac acoustic piano melodies stood out. A bit jazzy, a bit rootsy, a bit classical, a bit folksy, all of these elements combined into a whole, like an impressionistic stroll through a delightful Delius Summer garden with George Gershwin and Oscar Peterson.

Further hits followed, and collaborations with other artists, in which you could still say, “Ah, that’s Bruce on the piano….” Case in point, Don Henley’s “The End of the Innocence” or Bonnie Raitt’s hit recording of “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” The Bruce Hornsby sound.

Hornsby played “Innocence” in his wide-ranging set tonight, rendered even more wistful than the original version by his vulnerable vocals. We get some jazz, classical, barrelhouse barroom blues, and his own particular brand of sophisticated Americana. What we don’t get is any Grateful Dead material, despite a shouted request from an audience member. (Hornsby played over a hundred shows with the Dead as guest keyboardist and accordionist from the late 80s up until Jerry Garcia’s passing.) Said heckler is put in his place politely yet firmly by Hornsby:

“Look, I enjoyed my time with those guys, but that’s not what we’re doing tonight,” he responds, followed up by jokingly noting, “I’m sure there’s a Grateful Dead cover band rehearsing right now at RPI if you hurry you can probably catch ‘em.” Then he muses on the fact that he has upcoming dates with The Dark Star Orchestra, “actually, I’m opening for a Grateful Dead cover band soon!”

Hornsby has been quoted as saying, “I never like to play the same thing every time,” and “I think of my songs as living beings that evolve and grow and change through the years.”

His solo arrangements of his songs certainly reflect this attitude, taking some interesting twists and turns. Even the iconic solo in “The Way it is” is somewhat dominated by a driving left-hand bass pattern that leads the well-known riff into a swampy jam.

What was abundantly clear is that by the end of the night, the audience had been treated to a masterclass of songwriting and piano playing by a true American original.

Setlist :

  • My Resolve
  • The Road Not Taken
  • Sidelines
  • Every Little Kiss
  • Sneaking up on Boo Radley
  • Twelve Tone Tune
  • L’escalier Du Diable
  • Song C
  • Swan Song
  • The Way It is/ Changes/ Sister Rosa
  • The Valley Road
  • Continents Drift
  • Cyclone
  • Spider Fingers
  • Questions & Answers
  • The End of the Innocence/ Sun Bear Theme


  • White Noise/Country Doctor 
  • Nobody There But Me

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