Hootie & the Blowfish Lead a ’90s Pop-Rock Revival in Nashville
Country music's '90s revival gave way to a '90s pop-rock renaissance for a night on Saturday when Hootie & the Blowfish and the Barenaked Ladies dropped a tight, well-rehearsed three-plus hours of hits and under-appreciated album cuts on a sold out Bridgestone Arena.
The headliners appropriately built their set list for this stop on the Group Therapy Tour for their most loyal fans—not the country music come-latelys that know "Let Her Cry" plus a few other hits from Cracked Rear View (1994) and lead singer Darius Rucker's country catalog. "Alright" and "Wagon Wheel" were the only two solo hits performed on this night; with the latter added to the set list reluctantly, Rucker admitted.
It was the right decision because—while the handful of original albums and one smashing album of covers provide depth and artistry the OG fan longed to hear live—Hootie & the Blowfish don't have quite enough familiarity in their catalog for less enthusiastic plus-ones. Someone dropped into the show from another planet would hardly be able to distinguish the radio hits ("Hold My Hand," "Time") from deep cuts like "Not Even the Trees."
Reliving these lost moments was near spiritual for some in attendance. "I Hope I Don't Fall In Love With You" (a Tom Waits cover) elicited an "OMG, the played it!" kind of response, of which there were several.
"Goodbye" may have epitomized that emotion. The song—performed by Rucker with just piano accompaniment—began a three-song encore that was something of a wonderful after-dinner drink following the all-call dessert that was "With a Little Help From My Friends." The Hootie version is the Joe Cocker version, not the Beatles version, and Rucker is every bit the singer and performer that Cocker was, even if he did crack up alongside the BNL's Ed Robertson after a remark about wearing white after Labor Day. "Only Wanna Be With You" was saved until the very end, as one figured it would be.
Any questions about if either the Barenaked Ladies or Hootie & the Blowfish "still have it" (both have been doing this for over 30 years) were answered quickly on this night. Rucker looks to be in the best shape of his life. The gray from his stubbly beard added wisdom to his storytelling during ballads, and achievement to his galloping across the stage during instrumental breaks. The veteran always saved enough breath to delivery strikingly earnest renditions of "Let Her Cry" and "Wagon Wheel," two songs that would leave a younger man gassed. Never could one doubt his sincerity in verse or chorus.
Having a great covers album in their catalog (Scattered, Smothered and Covered from 2000) proved to be quite an asset, but Rucker, Mark Bryan and company's recreations were uniquely personal even when off, as was the case with REM's "Losing My Religion."
The show was strikingly consistent and professional and every bit worth the ticket price, especially for fans who've been waiting for years for a new Hootie & the Blowfish Tour and album (Imperfect Circle drops Nov. 1).
See Pictures of Hootie & the Blowfish in Nashville: