The Listening Room: Bruce Hornsby - "Stranded on Easy Street"

Hornsby takes a mediocre song and turns it into gold in concert.
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bruce hornsby

"Funiculi/Funicula>Stranded on Easy Street"
Bruce Hornsby
From the live bootleg dated 08/04/99
Download the track here, or get the whole show here.


I am a collector.  Not of rare, historical, or even valuable things, but a collector nonetheless.  You might say the things I collect generally fall under the entertainment (or the more snobby of you might call them artistic) category: books, movies, music; these are the things I obsessively obtain.

I cannot walk past a used book store (or a library sale, or a Goodwill book section) without coming home with a sack of books.  I cannot pass by the $5 Wal-Mart DVD stash without digging through it looking for a gem.  I cannot stop buying, downloading and seeking out new music.  I have more books than I can possibly read, more movies than I'll ever watch, enough music to fill a lifetime, and yet I cannot stop myself from obtaining more. 

This is especially true with my bootleg collection.  I have well over a thousand hours of live concert recordings and yet hardly a day goes by that I don't accept a new trade or download a new torrent.  I simply can't help myself.

While I will never listen to all of it more than once (and likely there will always be songs that I never hear even that much) I do love to listen to these recordings.  The beauty of a bootleg is the ability of an artist to change a song, giving the listener something different, something entirely new from what was recorded on the studio track.

Think about Nirvana on MTV's Unplugged.  They took what were mostly hard edged, aggressive, and incredibly loud songs and stripped them of everything but the bare bones.  Minus the barrage of noise and feedback the world suddenly realized what an amazing songwriter Kurt Cobain was.  That's the power of a live performance.

"Stranded on Easy Street" comes from Bruce Hornsby's third album, A Night On the Town, and it suffers from what a lot of Hornsby studio songs suffer from - what I call overproduction.  There is a lot of synth noise, the drums sound like they are in an echo chamber,  and there are other bits of annoying electronica.  I find it boring and dated.  It is a song I undoubtedly skip whenever I listen to the album yet, in this show, I find that suddenly I really love the it.  It snaps, crackles, and blows the hairs off of my head.  Removed from the studio production, the song thrives in a swirl of horns, funked up bass lines, and a scorching guitar solo.  The transformation from studio to live performance is so intense that I hardly believe it is, in fact, the same song.  It goes from being a throwaway tune to one of my favorites. 

Because the track comes from a concert it doesn't actually begin with the song, but rather a band meeting because Hornsby doesn't know what he wants to play.  This morphs into a story and then a quick version of the old Italian classic "Funiculi/Funicula" as he tells said story.  It is a lovely bit of silliness that highlights what great fun a Bruce Hornsby show really is.  Once the band launches into the song you know it is going to be a riot.  This is furthered when in the middle of the jam Bruce hollers for the ladies of the audience to come on stage and dance.  I have to admit I've taken several breaks in writing this piece to do a bit of the same, sans stage and ladies. 

Yes, I am an obsessive collector of things including far too many bootlegs yet it is performances like this that keep me going.  Were it not my goal to obtain every performance ever recorded I'd never know the joy of this particular version of this particular song and that would make my life just a little sadder.