Hootie & the Blowfish Set the Bar For Their Return
It has been a long time since we have heard from Hootie & the Blowfish. The Columbia, SC bar band who became everybody's bar band with their simple, irresistible hook-laden songs temporarily disappeared from the music scene. Now they are trying to rekindle the spark that carried them into amphitheaters throughout the country and onto radio dials all over the world.
If it's critics who lambaste Hootie & the Blowfish, fans certainly embrace them. The group's first album, 1994's Cracked Rear View (Atlantic), is one of the most successful debuts ever. By the time their second album, Fairweather Johnson (Atlantic), was released in the spring of 1996, the debut had sold 13 million copies in the United States alone. To repeat success on that level would have elevated Hootie to another dimension. Still, the second effort entered the charts at #1 and went on to sell three million copies. It's difficult to call three million a letdown, but Hootie & the Blowfish have virtually vanished since then.
With their celebrated past behind them, the band rolled into the familiar confines of the Bayou on the last date of their intimate six-city tour. They "officially" hit the road to test new material from their forthcoming album which they are set to record with Don Gehman, the same man who produced their first two albums. It was evident that Hootie wanted to make sure they still had what it takes to captivate and energize a bar full of fans.
Their two-hour set featured nearly ten new compositions, every Hootie & the Blowfish song a regular radio listener could sing along to as well as a few well-placed covers. Darius Rucker, the man most confuse as "Hootie" (the band's name is actually a compound of nicknames of two of Rucker's college friends), epitomized the good-times vibe the band conveys. His gruff and gritty baritone carried the show even if some of the song's lyrics are much less meaningful than Rucker would have you believe.
The sold-out (and then some) crowd acted as any good bar crowd will. They got more raucous as the night and drinks progressed. The "Big Four" -- "Only Wanna Be With You," "Hold My Hand," "Time" and "Let Her Cry" -- were met with wide approval. Singing along was the order of the night, and it would have been difficult to find somebody who didn't know almost every word to all those songs. A few lesser known songs from the first album -- "Drowning" and "Running From An Angel" -- as well as "Old Man & Me" and "Sad Caper" from Fairweather Johnson found Rucker's lyrics bouncing over the interweaving acoustic guitars he and Mark Bryan played.
The new songs showed a maturity Hootie have never demonstrated before. "Las Vegas Nights" and "What Do You Want From Me Now" were among the finest. A few new songs strayed from Hootie's normal anthemic pop and ventured into the country/folk genre. They were all hints that Hootie is back. Clearly enjoying themselves, the band belted out Led Zeppelin's "Hey Hey What Can I Do," and they made the Georgia Satellites' "Keep Your Hands To Yourself" sound as if it was their own.
If Hootie & the Blowfish returned home by playing a bar like the Bayou, they proved they could soon return to their other home -- arenas that can hold ten thousand or more screaming fans.