South Carolina’s globe-gobbling phenomenon, Hootie & the Blowfish, return to the Midlands for the first time in nearly two decades. Sam Lambeth reviews.
“And I will strike down those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers,” spits Samuel L Jackson, diving gleefully back into his Pulp Fiction phrase. As his dulcet tones ring out across a packed-out Birmingham O2 Academy, it’s a fitting reflection of tonight’s headliners. During their original tenure, Hootie & the Blowfish were synonymous with sappiness, frequently topping Worst Band lists and beloved by nerd-in-chief Ross Gellar. However, their reunion tour has shown that the four-piece are having the last laugh against their critics.
Within seconds of Samuel’s closing gambit, Hootie barrel into the hulking anthem Hannah Jane. Scissor-kicking guitarist Mark Bryan’s contemplative crunch cuts through the air, while the harmonies remain herculean. This bullish spirit then bleeds straight into the introspective chug of State Your Peace, buoyed by the pounding drums of Jim Sonenfield and Darius Rucker’s ragged howl.
The formula that earned the band unprecedented popularity remains simple but devastatingly effective. I Go Blind bounds along on a sprightly riff and an infectious chorus, Sad Caper blends melancholic meditations with an irrepressible sunny melody and Not Even the Trees has the slow-burning defiance of Automatic for the People’s more uplifting moments. Speaking of R.E.M., Rucker credits them for Hootie’s formation and it’s not long before Bryan launches straight into a commendable cover of Losing My Religion.
With their burly physiques, ragged jeans and trucker caps, Hootie resemble four car mechanics finishing up at the garage, but are sublime musical hosts. Bryan throws so many plectrums into the crowd you begin to fear he’ll have to spend the encore fingerpicking. Rucker performs with an irrepressible grin and a knowing, deadpan sense of humour. However, it’s the latter’s voice that is the star of the show. Whether it be on a suitably soaring Hold My Hand, the reflective jangle of Time or a jaw-droppingly sparse Goodbye, Rucker’s gravelly baritone still carries a bruised but beautiful currency.
The tasters from forthcoming album Imperfect Circle – the breezy Rollin and the chiming Miss California – slot in seamlessly among the swirling riffs of Old Man & Me, and Go and Tell Him (Soup Song). By the time they reach the wistful Only Wanna Be With You, the bulging audience have been firmly reminded that while the Blowfish have never been cool, their legacy will endure.
All words by Sam Lambeth. Sam is a Birmingham-based journalist and musician. More of his work for Louder Than War is available on his archive. He also runs his own blog and his music can be found on Spotify.