Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, Van Ghost at Park West

Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, Van Ghost at Park West on 6.17.12-6.jpg

Shows at Park West are always great. I’ve literally never seen a bad show there. Not only do they have one of the best sounding rooms with an incredibly comfortable layout, but with Jam Productions running the ship, they consistently book shows that appeal to me. This summer Sunday night show fell right in line, proving once again that new live music experiences are a wonderful thing. A Van Ghost date in Chicago is what really drew me out, but I was also intrigued by Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, what with having never seen them before but knowing all about Hornsby’s legend. I’d never listened to any of their material and kept it that way heading into the show — sometimes it’s just better to go into these things with a clean slate.

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Van Ghost shows in Chicago just have that warm, fuzzy feeling and getting to see/hear them in Park West was the cherry on top. They sounded really, really good — as crisp as I’ve ever heard them indoors. They played a setlist that featured a number of songs from their soon-to-be-released album, and a couple of new songs as well. Both “If It Ain’t Crazy I Ain’t Love” and “Simplify” sounded very well-worn considering they are basically newborn baby songs. The acoustic versions at Abbey Pub (opening for 30db) were nice, but both of these songs sounded so much more polished in this setting. They even saved “Easy On Me” (my current favorite VG song) for last. The end of this song pushes VG to the edge of their intensity and closed the show in a powerful way. This was a really different setlist from shows past, which was a good thing to hear. It seemed like the first handful of times I saw them they played nearly the same setlist, except each performance just kept getting better and better. So it was nice to see that not only has their sound continued to gain strength, but they are expanding their setlist comfort zone and pushing the way they present their music as well. Yet another fantastic show from Van Ghost.

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As soon as VG finished, people poured out of the booths & up from the tables and hustled to get a spot along the stage. Yeah, most everyone was there to see Bruce Hornsby. It was awesome to see so many passionate music fans get excited all at once to see one of their heroes. The six piece band came out to a gregarious cheer and right away Hornsby started playing some magic on his Steinway & Sons grand piano. He went off on a solo tangent that reminded me of Keith Jarrett and instantly made me say “Whoa” at this dude’s talent on the piano. But he wasn’t there to improvise some solo jazz piano piece; he was there to rock. And rock they did. It was an amazingly comforting brand of Americana rock n roll. As soothing as you could ever imagine rock music. Hornsby’s voice reminded me somewhat of Paul Simon’s voice, possessing this honey sweetness that felt like a smile. Basically, this guy was an astonishingly talented all-around musician. The saxophone, and even an electronic wind instrument (EWI), blended beautifully with the traditional, dusty road rock n roll that the rest of the band was laying down. I obviously didn’t recognize any of the material, but that didn’t stop the grin from washing all over my face. For not having many expectations for this show, I let extremely pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed everything I heard. This is a tremendous rock n roll band, fit for any American music festival’s main stage right around 5:00pm.

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Jeremy Frazier is the editor-in-chief of Soundfuse.