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Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers with Los Lobos At The Flynn Center for the Performing arts

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Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers w/ Los Lobos
Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
Burlington, Vermont
July 20, 2018

Given the musicianly approach Bruce Hornsby has applied to his career, it makes perfect sense for him to tour with Los Lobos. With his bands (originally the Range and now the Noisemakers) and in collaborations with like like-minded artists such as the Grateful Dead, Bela Fleck and Pat Metheny, the keyboardist/vocalist/composer has put more premium on honest exploration of his potential for innovation than commercial accessibility. And, notwithstanding the mainstream success they enjoyed with "La Bamba," the same might be said of the band from east LA.

The ever-affable sextet opened the show with roughly an hour set, condensing their usual two by mixing music of their Mexican roots with heady blues rock, twists to which came mid-way in the performance. Sporting his usual shades, guitarist Cesar Rosas led the group from The Temptations' "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" into Sonny Boy Williamson's "One Way Out," as long performed by The Allman Brothers Band: he and guitar partner David Hidalgo there engaged in some turbulent instrumental interaction, punctuated not only by Enrique "Bugs" Gonzalez gleeful drumming, but also by an unsolicited (yet nonetheless welcome) audience singalong. With Hidalgo on accordion (which he played for a small handful of tunes),"Kiko and the Lavender Moon" followed shortly thereafter, its dream-like atmosphere in marked contrast to the high-spirited "Chucho's Cumbia;" such deft changes of pace ensured that, by the time of the frenetic finale of "Mas y Mas." Los Lobos had securely connected with the crowd.

As a result, Hornsby & company certainly benefited from their opening act. Perhaps a little too informal for his own good overall, the leader of the band had the crowd in the palm of his hand for the duration of his ninety minutes plus onstage with his well-practiced ensemble (bassist J.V. Collier, keyboardist/organist John "JT" Thomas, drummer Chad Wright, fiddler/mandolinist John Mailander and guitarist Gibb Droll). Given the individual and collective technical expertise at hand, then, it was somewhat odd the unit never engaged in any truly extended improvisations or segues of familiar numbers like "Mandolin Rain"(markedly reworked from it well-known arrangements). But, again, the casual atmosphere in the theater precluded such an adventurous approach.

Those impromptu interludes that did occur, as conducted by Hornsby, were actually the most memorable portions of their show. Except, perhaps, for the spirited rendition of "Cyclone," the faux sea shanty Hornsby composed with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter (his most emotive vocal of the evening) as well as the interlude that found Bruce sitting alone at center stage, dulcimer in hand: it was a rousing moment he and his band enjoyed as much as the full house (notwithstanding the early departures and some fidgeting in the seats). "Big Rock Candy Mountain">"The Good Life">"Candy Mountain Run" was similarly upbeat, set in relief to a contemplative tune clearly close to Bruce Hornsby's heart, "Fields of Gray">"That's Where It's At."

Would that the ostensible star of the evening had followed show business ritual and left those numbers as the formal closing, then returned for an up-tempo encore. Instead, Hornsby chose to eschew ritual and his decision was applauded, albeit somewhat more tentatively than many of his other unconventional decisions this very warm summer evening. Nevertheless, his exit from the stage left the strains of Aaron Copland, The Band and Grateful Dead wafting pleasantly in the cool air of this venerable venue til the doors opened to the heavy humidity a few moments later.

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