Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Hootie pleases Riverbend crowd

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Nearly a decade ago, when Hootie and the Blowfish were selling however-many-millions of copies of their 1994 breakthrough album, guitarist Mark Bryan probably wasn't compelled to remind live audiences after every other song to go out and buy the new CD. Cracked Rear View sold itself.

But times have changed, and today it's not as profitable to be a Blowfish.

The '90s hit group played Riverbend Monday night, and the show was well-attended, but there's no telling how many tickets were giveaways or how many lawn seats were sold at discounted prices. Even good pavilion seats went for under 30 bucks, which is beans compared to most Riverbend shows.

But despite their linear decline of a career, the band put on a very entertaining and confident performance, as if it were again 1995, the year when the radio made endless Hootie noises. In fact, the only irritant of the show was Bryan's incessant sales pitches for the latest release, which only served to remind us that the band doesn't move product anymore.

What's not to like about Hootie and the Blowfish? Sure, front man Darius Rucker can be a cheeseball of the highest order, and his "soulful" singing is usually just over-singing, but that's all part of the formula that made monster smash hits out of "Hold My Hand" and "I Only Wanna Be with You" (two of Monday's obvious crowd favorites).

The band, rounded out by bassist Dean Felber and drummer Jim Sonefeld, beefed up their rootsy pop sound with help from percussionist Gary Greene and multi-instrumentalist Peter Holsapple. Hootie and the Blowfish were at one time vaguely numbered among the ranks of jam bands, and on the rocking, up-tempo songs, the pair of sidemen added bongos, keyboards and slide guitar to help Hootie and company sound like an honest-to-goodness jamming unit.

Holsapple shined on the slower stuff, too, providing "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" with a lilting solo on lap steel.

That was the first of many covers, and all of them were good.

The Hootmeister belted out Led Zeppelin's "Hey Hey What Can I Do" while the band played a note-perfect rendition. They fit a full version of R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It" inside "I Only Wanna Be with You." And they capped the 90-minute set with the Doobie Brothers' "Black Water."


E-mail cvarias@enquirer.com

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