Sparse Crowd Tepid To Best Blowfish Efforts
Some day, pop culture historians will ponder the central paradox concerning Hootie And The Blowfish: Their music seems to inspire more passion among those who DISLIKE it.
About 5,000 fans managed to push themselves away from the turkey and trimmings and make their way to the Corel Centre to see Hootie, which has managed to collect with relative ease both platinum awards and vicious critical raspberries.
It's strange when you consider how many modest-selling acts have managed to attract much larger crowds to the Kanata rink this year. What's really curious, though, is the reaction of those who did manage to make it to the show. Granted, this was a relatively scattered crowd, but I can't recall hearing a more tepid cheer greet a headline act when the houselights went down and the foursome (augmented by a percussionist and Continental Drifters' keyboardist and sometime REM sideman Peter Holsapple) kicked the proceedings off with Old Man & Me.
Not that the Blowfish didn't give it their best. Guitarist Mark Bryan's good-natured prodding ("Did someone tell you you couldn't stand up?") had the first few rows standing in the spot and clapping along to Hannah Jane and Look Away. Only Wanna Be With You (which included a verse from alterna-rock underdogs Son Volt's song Windfall) and nifty covers of Nick Lowe's What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love And Understanding and a cha-cha rendition of the surf instrumental Wipeout did manage to raise the energy level late in the set, but the Blowfish never seemed to sustain any momentum.
The members of Hootie and the Blowfish are perfectly polite, tight and engaging performers, marching through a workmanlike collection of their folk-and-soul-flavored repertoire, and kibitzing between songs about the weather and the Senators' chances this NHL season. The crowd was, likewise, attentive but restrained until the rapturously-received encore, Hold My Hand. When Darius Rucker unleashed his overloaded, soulful vocal on Let Her Cry, it was easy to see the band's appeal. But it also cast light on their central weakness. He colors each performance with the same boiler-plate passion. In very small doses, it's a treat. Extended over an evening, it goes beyond boring and can get annoying.
The huge sales figures and critical enmity both seem strangely at odds with what is, at best, an unadventurous, formulaic but inoffensive band - worthy of neither extreme scorn nor enthusiasm. For world-class irony, one need look no further than the strange case of opening act 54-40. Hootie has pointed to the Vancouver quartet as a seminal influence, and proved the point by recording a cover of 54-40's nugget I Go Blind as a single b-side. Now, after outstripping 54-40's success, the Blowfish have hired their mentors as an opening act. Strange how things work out.
The opening stint gives 54-40 a rare chance to blow their solid club show up to arena rock size, and for most of their nearly hour-long performance, they were up to the task. The set quickly shaped up as a greatest-hits tour of the band's career, with resurrected early favorites like Baby Ran snuggled up to mid-period standouts like She-La and more recent work like Ocean Pearl and Lies To Me. "There was a little debate there backstage and we won the coin toss," singer-guitarist Neil Osborne told the sparse early-evening crowd before leading the band in their version of I Go Blind. The Vancouverites later rejoined the Blowfish for, of all things, a Doobie Brothers cover.
The set climaxed with Nice To Luv You, which smartly segued into a crunchy take on Prince's apocalyptic jam, 1999. The kind of cool irreverence it takes to pull that kind of stunt off is something the listless headliners could never dare attempt. Which only goes to prove that Hootie and the Blowfish could still take a lesson from their masters.