On Tuesday night, the band will be honored at the Billboard Live Music Summit + Awards for their massive summer Group Therapy Tour.
“This is the smallest room we’ve played in a long time. Let’s make some history,” said Darius Rucker — and with that, he and his Hootie & The Blowfish bandmates launched in to a nearly two-hour show at West Hollywood’s Troubadour on Monday night.
The performance came one night before the foursome is set to be honored at the Billboard Live Music Awards on Tuesday night (Nov. 5) at Billboard’s Live Music Summit in Beverly Hills for this summer’s Group Therapy Tour. The U.S. outing, the band’s first in 11 years, grossed more than $42 million and included two sold-out Madison Square Garden shows.
But on Monday night, they were back in a club, just like the kind they played (albeit perhaps a little more legendary) coming up as a bar band after meeting at the University of South Carolina some 30 years ago.
Though they’ve clearly honed their chops since then, all the marks of a great bar band have stayed with Hootie & The Blowfish, and it’s one of their more ingratiating traits. The quartet — Rucker, guitarist Mark Bryan, drummer Jim “Soni” Sonefeld and bassist Dean Felber — have always worn their collective (and tasty) influences on their sleeves, and part of the joy from Monday’s show came from the nuggets by other artists they tossed into the set: Radney Foster’s “A Fine Line,” REM’s “Losing My Religion,” 54-40’s “I Go Blind" and even Led Zeppelin’s “Hey, Hey What Can I Do.”
But, of course, it was the band’s own hits that the fans, packed tightly in the 400-capacity club, came to see. Relying heavily on the songs that made them one of the top acts of the ‘90s, the band played six tracks from 1994’s Cracked Rear View, their juggernaut debut album for Atlantic that catapulted them to stardom and has been certified double-diamond for sales of more than 20 million by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Happily, such now-classics as “Hold My Hand,” “Only Wanna Be With You” (which they closed the show with and incorporated Kool & the Gang’s “Get Down On It"; check out a taste below) and “Let Her Cry” sound as fresh as they did a quarter-century ago — only this time they come vacuum-packed with memories, eliciting broad cheers, smiles and sing-alongs from the crowd.
Even better, the band’s new material — the quartet released Imperfect Circle, its first album of new songs in 14 years on Friday — fits right in with its catalog, while never sounding dated. Though only out for a few days, new single “Hold On” was a fan favorite, while “Rollin’,” and “Miss California” received warm welcomes, as did the two tunes tossed in from Rucker’s country solo career: “Alright” and the remake of Bob Dylan’s “Wagon Wheel.”
The enthusiasm flowed both ways: Rucker had a constant, broad grin on his face, while Bryan jumped up and down with the joyous verve of a 10-year-old. Sonefeld even unveiled a new drum kit tricked out with the Troubadour logo and the show’s date on it. The gusto would have meant nothing if they hadn’t backed it up with solid musicianship. Rucker’s rich baritone sounds as delightfully gruff as ever, while the band’s summer outing left them sounding tight and muscular. The foursome were accompanied by three stellar musicians: beloved indie artist Peter Holsapple (primarily on keys) and standout utility players Garry Murray and Gary Greene, all of whom added a textured depth to the sound.
It’s unclear if the band, who used the 25th anniversary of Cracked Rear View as the occasion for the summer outing, will tour together again. If they don’t, it will be a shame because all these years later, it’s clearer than ever that Hootie & The Blowfish are still at the top of their game.