Okay, so Hootie & The Blowfish didn't exactly rock the SkyDome last night. But the Columbia, S.C., quartet did manage to turn their cavernous surroundings into the world's largest sports bar, with a laid-back, loose and lengthy show that got better as the evening progressed.
"This is by far the widest crowd we've ever played to," said curly blond-haired guitarist Mark Bryan, noting the audience distribution. "It's big," added lead singer Darius Rucker, with an audible gulp.
The Blowfish rose above their huge surroundings, the thin crowd of 10,000 - the capacity for the evening was three times that amount - and their status as rock's blandest-sounding band. But not without major help from the fun-loving Bryan, who demanded at one point that the audience scream the nickname of the guy working the soundboard. "I want everybody to yell `Squirrel' so loud that they can heard you in the U.S.," he said, and the audience gladly complied. "Good work," said Bryan, who later handled lead vocals on a decent cover of the Doobie Brothers' Long Train Runnin' during the second of three encores.
Hootie also experimented a little by bringing out a two-man horn section - something Bryan said they had never done before - for their big hit Only Wanna Be With You. Then they drank shots on stage in the middle of the song to commemorate the occasion. "I've never heard this song and loved it as much as I do right now," said Rucker, who seemed to really mean it.
The sports-obssessed, beer-swigging Rucker, incidentally, also wanted to know the score of the National League baseball playoff game between the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals. "Are the Braves winning?" he demanded to a chorus of boos.
Otherwise, Rucker was a crowd favorite on hits like Hold My Hand, Old Man & Me and Let Her Cry, which he said was inspired after listening to a song by the Black Crowes (who play Massey Hall tonight). But his tendency to mumble made sing-alongs trickier than usual.
The material was pretty evenly divided between Hootie's most recent album, Fairweather Johnson, and their first release, Cracked Rear View, which has sold an astonishing 14 million and was the best-selling album of last year.
The Blowfish - rounded out by bassist Dean Felber and drummer Jim "Soni" Sonefeld, plus backup musicians on keyboards and percussion - also scored major points for bringing out backup act 54-40 again during the first encore to sing the Vancouver band's Take My Hand. Earlier, Hootie had performed the 54-40 classic I Go Blind, which they actually recorded for the soundtrack album for TV's Friends.
Brooklyn's They Might Be Giants were also on the bill, but it seemed pretty obvious who Hootie's favorites were when Bryan came out during 54-40's set to join them on One Gun.
NOTE: I attended this concert and it kicked major ass.