The stage was empty except for a shiny black Steinway & Sons grand piano. Hornsby was dressed casually in jeans, a long sleeve T-shirt and high-tops; quite a common man for the uncommon styled music about to be played. If one closed his or her eyes, you would think this is a classical player and not the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers song of the year performer of the late ’80s. The crowd chuckled after the introductory message banning any photography or recording. Hornsby said, “Everything I do gets on YouTube the next day.” He opened the show with Arc de Terre and Ligeti Etude, each a classical piece that showcased his amazing piano ability.
The first set contained several pieces from a musical he scored, “Sick Bastard.” It will debut in Philadelphia later this year. These pieces contained dark comedy that left the audience howling with laughter, a far different experience than the average concertgoer was expecting.
Hornsby seemed quite at ease throughout the set as he forgot the words to a verse of “Simple Prayer” and admitted as much to the audience. But he never missed a beat with his playing. The remainder of the performance included other songs from “Sick Bastard” with racy and vulgar lyrics, and classic hits such as “End of the Innocence,” “The Way It Is” and a beautifully reharmonized version of “Mandolin Rain.” The last time I saw Hornsby was in 1991 as a fill-in for the late Brent Mydland of the Grateful Dead. With this in mind, I had a full circle moment as the closing song was “Standing on the Moon” by Hunter and Garcia of the Grateful Dead.
Although Hornsby may have considered himself a “10-time Grammy loser,” there was nothing but success and brilliance at this concert. He played a diverse collection of pieces, from his classic hits and comical musical scores to baroque counterpoint, leaving the audience awed by the versatility of his musical prowess.
By Bryan Ferry and Dan Chester