WILKES-BARRE – Over the course of his 26-year career, Bruce Hornsby has played with many great bands like his own groups The Range and The Noisemakers plus the Grateful Dead, and has collaborated with the likes of Don Henley, Bonnie Raitt and Ricky Skaggs. But for his concert Friday at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, it was just him and his piano.
Fittingly for the eclectic pianist and singer-songwriter, the often intimate and sometimes humorous two-hour performance featured all different styles of music including pop and rock, some bluegrass, a little bit of jazz and some contemporary classical.
And he did play his biggest hits like 1986's No. 1 The Way It Is and the Top 5 hits Mandolin Wind and The Valley Road, but they were worlds away from the familiar tunes once heard all over American radio.
Sorry to those of you who came to hear record copies, he said early in the evening. As I'm sure you can tell by now, I'm not the guy for that.
He then joked about his sort of soft-core fans who remember five or six songs from 100 years ago and his more die-hard fans who have been with him throughout his journey.
Don't worry, I try to placate everybody.
After playing some very challenging contemporary-classical piano pieces, he then said, Here's a reward for those who suffered through all of that, a song I wrote with Don Henley a long time ago.
He then played a wonderful version of The End of The Innocence. Hornsby then followed that up with two selections from his as-yet unproduced Broadway play and a few selections he has written as soundtracks to Spike Lee films.
Hornsby said the version of The Valley Road was the way the Grateful Dead used to play it, while Mandolin Wind had a long introductory passage and felt a lot like the version he did with bluegrass great Skaggs a few years back at his previous performance at the Kirby Center.
Following his splendid cover of the Jimmy Martin bluegrass song 20/20 Vision and Walking Around Blind, which segued nicely into his own A Night on the Town, he did a fantastic version of Raitt's signature tune, I Can't Make You Love Me, calling it the collaboration he is most proud of from his lengthy career.
He then played the song he is most widely-known for, The Way It Is, which was his first hit with The Range back in 1986, but even that had a lengthy detour in the middle into what sounded like a Mozart piece.
Hornsby finished his set proper with Spider Fingers, a tune inspired by some Deadheads talking about a great performance he once did with the Dead.
After getting up to leave the stage, he quickly went back to the piano. I feel like George Jones when he leaves the stage and has his band play an instrumental much to the chagrin of the audience, he joked, but I'm not going to do that.
His encore then was three impromptu versions of Jones' classics He Stopped Loving Her Today, The Grand Tour and One Drink and Then Another, which Hornsby rendered a cappella.
This might be the start of something -- Bruce Sings George Jones, and it started right here in Wilkes-Barre, he said to a rousing ovation.
He then ended with a medley of the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter song Standing On The Moon paired beautifully with his own Halcyon Days.
Since he had begun the show a few hours earlier with Might As Well Be Me, a new tune which he recently wrote with Hunter, the longtime Grateful Dead lyricist, it was a superbly fitting way to bring the show to a close.