Concert Wrap – Darius Rucker, May 22, Arkansas Music Pavilion

May 23rd, 2009 at 9:19 am

All photos by KEVIN KINDER, Northwest Arkansas Times

All photos by KEVIN KINDER, Northwest Arkansas Times

Darius Rucker is still Hootie, except he never has been, and he’s actively trying not to be.

Got all that?

No?

Well, it works like this: Country musician Darius Rucker, who came to the Arkansas Music Pavilion on Friday (May 22), still sounds very much like he did when we was the lead singer of the uber-popular 90’s band Hootie and the Blowfish.

Hootie never was his name. That was a friend of the band, as the stories go. So Rucker, separated from his old band mates, has forged ahead using his own name and is seeking airplay on country radio stations and trying to distance himself from the Hootie handle.

It’s working, to a degree. Country fans have latched on, propelling two of his tracks, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” and “Won’t Be Like This For Long” to a position at or near the top of the charts.

He played both of those songs, and several other cuts from his debut country album, for a enthusiastic crowd of perhaps 1,300 at the Fayetteville venue.

But, here’s the thing. Nothing Rucker did at his most recent Fayetteville gig convinced me he is anything but Hootie, even if that never has been his real name. He still writes pop-influenced songs with catchy hooks and crossover appeal. That’s why Hootie & The Blowfish sold a remarkable 16 million copies of their debut album, and it’s why his current songs, labeled as country, are giving his old fans reasons to listen, too. Sure, there are banjos and mandolins attached to the new songs, but that instrumentation wouldn’t have been uncommon on Blowfish records, either.

Click the ‘more’ link below to continue reading about Darius Rucker’s recent concert in Fayetteville.

If anything, the move to country feels a little gimmicky, and Rucker’s setlist didn’t help relieve my impression of that. He played several covers throughout the night, and with the exception of one of those covers (more on it later), they sounded like the first three or four songs one would have heard if they walked to a country-themed karaoke bar.

He did David Allan Coe’s “You Never Even Call Me By My Name.” He did Arkansas native Tracy Lawrence’s “Time Marches On.” He even did Hank William Jr.’s “Family Tradition,” complete with a karaoke-style call and response (Rucker: ‘Why do you drink?’ Crowd response: ‘To get drunk!’.

Trite and overdone as some of those song selections may have been, Rucker was clearly enjoying himself and the crowd responded in kind. He indulged them in several Hootie songs in the process, playing radio hits “Let Her Cry,” “Hold My Hand” and “Only Wanna Be With You” along the way.

Semantics aside, Rucker was an enthusiastic participant in the party he helped create, singing, clapping and urging those in the audience to do the same. And in true showman fashion, he did something that predictably un-country to close the evening.

That moment would have been when the house lights turned purple and cast all the audience members in the a royal glow. Which is precisely when he launched into Prince’s “Purple Rain,” which got one of the biggest responses of the night.

Maybe we don’t know what to expect from Rucker after all.

A note about the openers: Wade Bowen and his band of ringers played about an hour-long set as the second of two opening acts. It was a strangely unresponsive crowd, and Bowen called out to the audience that was, as he was onstage, still trickling into the venue.

Wade Bowen, right, with his band.

Wade Bowen, right, with his band.

He encouraged them to get up and cheer. They didn’t. I don’t think Bowen and Rucker were terribly mismatched: both play “country” music that borrows heavily from rock and pop music. Bowen’s set was fine, and one would have to be a tough judge indeed to find something wrong with what was happening. There just wasn’t much enthusiasm, perhaps because the crowd was waiting for Rucker/Hootie. Or, it could have been that Bowen’s gravel voice seemed awfully dull and repetitive when compared to that of Sean McConnell, who took the stage for a solo acoustic set before Bowen and his band took the stage.

Sean McConnell

Sean McConnell

McConnell’s set was awfully short (about 25 minutes) but I was quite impressed with the dynamics of his voice. He didn’t have any one song that stuck out for me, but his voice did.

Darius Rucker setlist (as pulled from stage): 1) Forever Road; 2) Alright; 3) Learn To Live; 4) History in the Making; 5) Time Marches On [cover of Tracy Lawrence song]; 6) All I Want; 7) Let Her Cry; 8) Wary of a Woman; 9) It Won’t Be Like This For Long; 10) Hold My Hand; 11) You Never Even Call Me By My Name [David Allan Coe cover]; 12) Time; 13) Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It; 14) Family Tradition [Hank Williams Jr. cover]

Encore 1: 15) While I Still Got The Time; 16) Only Wanna Be With You

Encore 2: 17) Drinking and Dialin’; 18) Purple Rain [Prince cover]