Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers shine from blues to pop at The Troubadour

The multi-talented Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers played to a sold-out crowd at The Troubadour in West Hollywood on Saturday night, joining a world-class band of musicians for 130 minutes of jazz and blues, bluegrass and pop hits. Hornsby was joined by fiddle and mandolin player John Mailander (who also offered many vocal moments), Gibb Droll on both guitar and vocals, JT Thomas on keys, JV Collier on bass and Chad Wright on drums.

Bruce Hornsby took the stage and started solo at the piano for “Circus On The Moon” with The Noisemakers starting up lively instrumentation after the first verse and Hornsby’s soft-spoken, pure voice sounding like it has been preserved and well cared for over the years. Mailander’s fiddle really brought it to a timeless and inviting place, with the drums going strong by the end and the band enjoying an extended instrumental, which was met by the hearty cheers from eager fans.

Hornsby played some intricate piano on “White Noise” with rich bass notes on the keys, a warm guitar solo from Droll, horn-like tones on synthesizer from Thomas blending “Country Doctor”, with its jazzy elements on an instrumental that sounded like a score before picking up to a full-blown pop/rock track. New 2022 album ‘Flicted was on display with the first of three songs appearing in the set list, first the Danielle Haim-featured “Days Ahead” (sadly without Haim), but with Droll and Mailander lending their voices on some wonderful harmonies. The violin was absolutely gorgeous and the arrangement had a jazzy tone, coloring this optimistic and hopeful song which clearly sounds like it was born out of the difficult period the world has experienced over the last few years. Hornsby hit some high notes which could only bring a smile to your face.

Photo by Alex Kluft

On the easy-going “Cleopatra Drones”, Bruce Hornsby stood for a spirited piano part, with a lively pickup from the band that sounded like it may well have been a 20,000-person amphitheater rather than a 500-capped club. After another solid Hornsby solo on the piano near the end, he stepped away and let the band cook, while the crowd cheered. The band played 1988 feel-good track “Look Out Every Window” with some glorious piano moments, followed by big chords and a jazzy instrumentation on “Long Tall Cool One”, with delicate finger-plucking from Mailander and Hornsby’s voice sounding like a trumpet or sax as the band turned it into a rock ‘n roll song with Thomas adding in maximum flavor on the bluesy organ.

Thomas’ grandchildren apparently requested the new Chuck Berry cover of “Too Much Monkey Business”, with Hornsby singing —sort of rapping with a different part of his voice while JT Thomas had some shining moments on the organ. Bruce Hornsby sat center stage on the Appalachian dulcimer with Mailander (now on mandolin) and Wright on a washboard percussion jacket for first-ever hit “Every Little Kiss”. It’s one of the brightest songs from the era, performed in a sort of campfire setting, with pretty cries from Thomas on the synthesizer.

Another new one, the organic “Lidar” was a head-bopper and foot-tapper thanks to the scratching of the metal jacket, and there was a youthfulness with the gleaming bluegrass instrumentation of the dulcimer and the mandolin. Hornsby remained center stage for two more, another bluegrass tune “Over The Rise” (which features Justin Vernon of Bon Iver on the recording) with Mailander playing mandolin and fiddle back-to-back followed by the mid-tempo “Prairie Dog Town”, mentioning how he and Snoop Dogg have “stolen” portions of one another’s songs from each other. It’s also a great moment to mention Bruce Hornsby’s legacy, not only how versatile his songs are, being sampled by multiple rappers, but also his embrace of other young musicians.

Hornsby took out the accordion for “On The Western Skyline” and Mailander’s fiddle brought the song to life once again. Bruce Hornsby played his timeless and beautiful “The Way It Is” intro and messed with the arrangement multiple times, playing a carnival-like version blending it with some classical moments of the hit song, keeping its epicness throughout the theme, adding some improv and piano acrobatics, and finally back to the iconic piano. The core song was slightly more bluesy with incredible moments on the organ and the bass was super hot. Hornsby’s piano solo, especially on the high keys was pretty miraculous and could give you chills; it was clear the musicians were enjoying the extended version with its multiple variations.

The band played the funky “Tango King” with Hornsby waving at the fans behind his piano bench during an instrumental portion and they concluded with an even livelier “Rainbow’s Cadillac”, with the whole band sounding stellar. The crowd thought it was all over but Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers did not disappoint and played the timeless “Mandolin Rain”, with a killer vocal that once again sounded like a horn instrument, blended with his version of Sam Cooke’s “Sad Moon”. 

Words by Michael Menachem
Images by Alex Kluft