Darius Rucker Walked the Line Between Pop and Country at Gexa

Darius Rucker mixed in some pop Friday at Gexa, but the night was all about country.EXPAND
Darius Rucker mixed in some pop Friday at Gexa, but the night was all about country.
Jason Janik

Darius Rucker
With Dan + Shay
Gexa Energy Pavilion, Dallas
Friday, June 17, 2016

It's hard to know what to expect from a stadium concert tour without a new album to back it up.  Darius Rucker proved that you don't need one when his Good for a Good Time Tour hit Gexa Energy Pavilion on Friday.

Dressed simply in a baseball cap, T-shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots, Rucker worked an unpretentious country vibe. The first songs in his set pampered the crowd, for sure. He started his set with "Radio," off 2010's True Believer, then played "Southern State of Mind" which, though never a single, is a fan favorite.

“This song is about how cool it is to live below the Mason Dixon line,” he declared to rapturous applause. Rucker hasn't always been a flag-waving country boy, but he played it to the hilt on Friday.

It was a full house at Gexa on Friday.EXPAND
It was a full house at Gexa on Friday.
Jason Janik

His choice of openers, Dan + Shay, helped bring that fact into stark relief. They drew heavily on covers, including "Pour Some Sugar on Me," "All of the Lights" and Taylor Swift's "Bad Love," a pop-emoji mashup that invited in a much younger crowd but also bordered on karaoke.

So when Rucker came out and did a mostly country set with a little blues mixed in, he ended up looking traditional and un-ironic, though not naive. Working both sides of the equation — the more traditional country side and the more unabashed poptimism — was really where Rucker thrived. "I really hate labels," he insisted at one point. "But a great song is a great song." Then he went straight from a cover of "Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks into a semi-countrified version of "No Diggity" by Blackstreet.

Rucker's charming smile infected his entire band, including the sitar/banjo plucker and the fiddler. Over the course of a heat-suffocated Texas evening, a good attitude can mean the difference between dancing and stewing in your boots. Rucker's energy and personable tone kept the good vibes flowing.

Still, though, there was the elephant in the stadium. “Have you guys heard of this little band out of South Carolina called Hootie and the Blowfish?” he teased, casually reframing the group that made him famous more than 20 years ago within a Southern context. His first pick to pay tribute to Hootie was “Time,” a song, he noted, that he's been playing for 30 years.

Rucker's Grand Ole Opry hat went flying at the end of the night.EXPAND
Rucker's Grand Ole Opry hat went flying at the end of the night.
Jason Janik

You might think that due to the fame and name recognition of Hootie and the Blowfish, people would lose it over the Hootie songs, but in many ways Rucker's country stardom — his last four albums have all topped the country charts, after all — has surpassed his old band's notoriety.  In fact, the highlight of the night by far was when the first bars of "Wagon Wheel" started playing for the encore. That hugely popular song happens to be a cover of a cover, but it won him a performance Grammy in 2013.

"Wagon Wheel" was saved for the encore, but it wasn't the last song of the night. Rucker capped off the night with a song dedicated to “one of his idols.” With purple lights, purple graphic displays and a stadium on its feet, Rucker closed out the night with a pretty literal cover of "Purple Rain." Everyone sang in unison in the stadium to the last word.

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As the song closed out, Rucker took off his sweat-soaked Grand Ole Opry hat and looked it over. Shrugging a little, Rucker turned around and tossed it backward into the pit. Then he threw his mic to the stage and walked off back between the two large monitors, while the band played one more crashing, percussive minute of “Purple Rain.”

It didn't matter that it was a country show. Rucker's concert nudged the genres a little too much for that to matter at this point in the night. Who cares what it's called, after all, as long as it's a good time?

Rucker knows how to reach his fan base, which is comprised of a country music core these days.EXPAND
Rucker knows how to reach his fan base, which is comprised of a country music core these days.
Jason Janik
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