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Twenty-five years after breaking onto the national scene in a big way, Hootie and the Blowfish still “Only Wanna Be With You.”
Now, they get to find out if the feeling is mutual, during a major reunion tour bringing the South Carolina pop-rock act back together after more than 10 years apart.
Fortunately, most signs pointed to the affirmative during the tour stop on June 29 at the Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View. More than 11,000 fans turned out to see the band, which peaked in popularity with the release of the record-setting debut “Cracked Rear View” in the mid-‘90s.
And these fans seemed thrilled to relive the close-knit harmonies, warm lead vocals and catchy Starbucks-friendly melodies that propelled such singles as “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry” and ”Only Wanna Be with You” into the top 10 back in the day.
But if you were looking for anything other than a straight nostalgia ride, mixing the band’s own oldies with a clever assortment of covers, then you were probably in the wrong place.
In other words, Hootie and the Blowfish isn’t bringing much new to the table on this tour. But, as far as fans at Shoreline were concerned, they didn’t need to.
The fact that the band was simply there, after all these years, was more than enough.
The trek, dubbed the Group Therapy Tour, celebrates the 25th anniversary of “Cracked Rear View.” And, indeed, there is a lot to celebrate when it comes to that release, which still stands as one of the top-selling albums of all time.
Yet, its overwhelming popularity also brought huge expectations, which the band would never be able to meet on subsequent albums, and an even bigger backlash, as tastemakers worked tirelessly to put Hootie and the Blowfish on the same “uncool” list as Michael Bolton and Kenny G.
The band’s final two albums, 2003’s eponymous platter and 2005’s “Looking for Lucky,” couldn’t even dent the Top 40. A few years later, vocalist Darius Rucker launched his wildly successful solo career in country music and Hootie and the Blowfish were put on what seemed like permanent hiatus.
Yet, here they were back again, the band’s signature mid-‘90s lineup of Rucker on vocals and guitar, Mark Bryan on lead guitar, Dean Felber on bass and Jim Sonefeld on drums, and ready to rock fans at Shoreline.
Following a fun opening set by Canadian pop-rock favorites Barenaked Ladies, Rucker and company took the stage and kicked open their set, like the “Cracked Rear View” album itself, with “Hannah Jane.”
The group then ventured into “Looking for Lucky” territory for “State Your Peace,” which most of these fans were probably hearing for the first time, before recalling its hit cover of 54-40’s “I Go Blind” off the soundtrack to the TV show “Friends.”
It was the first of many satisfying cover songs featured in the set list. The group also borrowed Tom Waits’ “I Hope I Don’t Fall in Love With You,” Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do” and Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With,” among others.
Rucker also turned to the songbook of his favorite band – and, for my money, the best American rock band of all time – R.E.M. for a solid version of “Losing My Religion.” I would have preferred, however, if the singer had dusted off the version of R.E.M.’s “Driver 8” found on Hootie and the Blowfish’s “Scattered, Smothered and Covered” album of 2000.
Rucker also included a pair of solo hits – “Alright” and “Wagon Wheel” – both of which were very well received by the audience.
Yet, despite the fun cover songs and Rucker solo offerings, the true star of the show was the “Cracked Rear View” material. So many of the offerings from that album – especially “Let Her Cry” and “Hold My Hand” – sounded like timeless pop-rock nuggets, showing that the hipsters pretty much had no idea what they were talking about when they were busy slamming the band back in the ‘90s.
The band actually made some great music back in the day. And this Shoreline show served as an excellent reminder of that.