Bruce Hornsby at Denver Botanic Gardens, 8/30/12 (photos and review) - Reverb

Bruce Hornsby at Denver Botanic Gardens, 8/30/12 (photos and review)

Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers kept vintage tunes fresh as the flowers at Denver Botanic Gardens Thursday. As the almost-full blue moon rose over the barefoot-grass amphitheater packed with people and sophisticated picnics, Hornsby took his place at his piano bench. Spine ramrod straight, he tickled ivories not only on his grand piano, but also a smaller keyboard mounted above.

Opening with music scored for Spike Lee’s new film “Red Hook Summer,” Hornsby complained about the piano’s tuning. He did likewise when he embraced his dulcimer. He’s a smoothly polished showman and carried on, as he said, “undaunted.”

Working his jazzy-jam-band-R&B alchemy, the Noisemakers performed several requests written by veteran fans aware that Hornsby often creates setlists on the fly.

Concertgoers eager to hear favorite radio hits such as “Valley Road” or “End of the Innocence” (co-written with Don Henley) might have experienced surprise because Hornsby often renders archival chestnuts almost unidentifiable. Elegantly elongating songs with complex riffs, Hornsby meanders through music, altering phrasing of vocals. Once keyed up, Hornsby can barely stop himself, which makes for entertaining concerts. With his impressively improvisational approach, there’s no danger of phoning it in.

As Hornsby picked up his accordion, he claimed a lack of virtuosity. “A punk at heart,” Hornsby said, explaining punk rock’s spirit: “You don’t have to be good to play.”

No punks, the Noisemakers make remarkable music. The drummer stood out, twirling sticks, then getting down and dirty on a washboard.

Despite the amphitheater’s coziness, the cultivated beauty of gardens, and permission for concertgoers to bring wine or beer, Hornsby and the Noisemakers sound best where they can make noise: loud, proud strong, and long. DBG’s residential neighborhood imposes limitations, and “that’s just the way it is.”

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Colleen Smith, a longtime freelancer at The Denver Post, is the author of the novel “Glass Halo” and the gift book “Laid-Back Skier.”

Alan Cox is the president/creative director of Cox Creative, a Highlands Ranch-based creative shop. He works too much, sleeps too little and spends every free moment coaching baseball, shooting images and hanging out with his rowdy sons and rowdier wife. Check out his photos here.