The word "therapy" is defined as the “medical treatment of impairment, injury, disease, or disorder.”
Of those four, it would seem injury — primarily of a reputational sort — was being most thoroughly addressed Saturday night at Dos Equis Pavilion, as Hootie and the Blowfish brought its Group Therapy Tour to Dallas, returning to North Texas for its first appearance in more than a decade.
Giving its “comeback” tour such a title cannot be a coincidence, and it’s certainly possible Group Therapy is meant to be either affectionately ironic or tongue-in-cheek. Yet there’s a certain undercurrent of grievance coursing through Hootie and the Blowfish’s music and its fan base, as evidenced by a recent New York Times article arguing for belated vindication of the South Carolina-formed rock band and its catalog.
Particularly given country music’s trend toward easy, glossy pop and rock textures over the last decade, Hootie and the Blowfish look downright prescient in 2019 — breezy, catchy songs sprinkled with mandolin, fiddle and acoustic guitar tailor-made for summer afternoons are abundant in Nashville. But Darius Rucker and his bandmates arrived during a moment when grunge and bubblegum pop were ascendant, all but ensuring their time in the spotlight would be brief.
After exploding into the pop cultural consciousness with 1994’s multi-platinum major label debut Cracked Rear View, the backlash came swiftly — two years later, with sophomore LP Fairweather Johnson, Hootie and the Blowfish’s descent toward easy ‘90s punchline began, culminating in the band taking a hiatus in 2008, three years after its last (and, as of this writing, most recent) studio album, Looking for Lucky.
However the tour’s title is intended, it was clear over the course of 110 minutes, before a fervent and well-lubricated audience, that the warm glow of nostalgia suits Rucker, Mark Bryan, Dean Felber and Jim Sonefeld, the band’s original lineup (which was augmented Saturday with three additional players, drummer Gary Greene and multi-instrumentalists Peter Holsapple and Garry Murray).
Opening act Barenaked Ladies, the goofy Canadian pop-rock outfit that has endured for three decades, despite not having had a certifiable hit since the early days of George W. Bush’s first term in office, kept things decidedly light during its hourlong set, which incorporated plenty of beloved singles (“Brian Wilson,” “It’s All Been Done,” “The Old Apartment” and, of course, “One Week”).
Frontman Ed Robertson served as the rascally host, improvising raps (“We’re BNL/Hootie’s next, you know”) and going so far as to completely psych out the still-gathering crowd, and bring them to their feet, by announcing Sarah McLachlan was about to join them onstage (she was not in attendance Saturday).
Whatever the descriptive shorthand used — roots rock, alt-country, jangle-pop or country-rock — Hootie and the Blowfish’s material has aged extraordinarily well, fond remembrances aside. Befitting the straight-ahead sounds, the stage wasn’t overly fussy, either: A video screen backdrop loomed over the musicians, and the occasional burst of light would erupt from overhead.
The show-opening “Hannah Jane” (which also kicks off Cracked Rear View) remains a soaring, shimmering piece of anthemic pop, and the honey-voiced Rucker is still, 25 years on, one of the best singers in any genre, full stop.
As expected, the set list pulled heavily from Rear View — eight of the record’s 11 tracks were showcased — and the hits had the nearly full venue roaring its approval and singing along to “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry,” “Time” and “Only Wanna Be with You.”
In a slightly mystifying decision — perhaps out of defensiveness, or perhaps out of deference to those seeking a good time — a preponderance of the night was given over to covers.
Nearly half the set was made up of others’ music, which, in the hands of such capable musicians, wasn’t unbearable, but slightly strange. Or at least until you remember the band released an all-covers record in 2000 titled Scattered, Smothered and Covered, and several tunes from that effort turned up Saturday, including sharp versions of Radney Foster’s “Fine Line,” 54-40’s “I Go Blind” and Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do.”
Still, the set list felt a bit like a missed opportunity: Why not give more of Fairweather Johnson or 2003’s Hootie & the Blowfish a chance? By focusing so heavily on Cracked Rear View, which is marking its 25th anniversary this year, the band almost seemed to be admitting its first effort was its best, tacitly agreeing all had been downhill afterward, even if the subsequent albums don’t bear that out.
However, none of these existential questions seemed to be plaguing anyone in attendance Saturday, least of all Rucker and his bandmates. The jovial Rucker, a self-professed “really big Dallas Mavericks fan,” offered some free advice: “We get Dirk (Nowitzki) to come out of retirement,” Rucker said, to rafter-rattling cheers. “We get Dirk, Luka (Doncic) and (Kristaps) Porzingis on one team … market them as The Unicorns, and win the damn championship. You’re welcome, Mark Cuban.”
It was not unlike something you might overhear someone cheerily discussing at a bar during happy hour, a convivial gathering of friends enjoying a cold beer and good company.
In that moment, the enduring appeal of Hootie and the Blowfish crystallized anew. The years have slipped by with startling speed, bygones are bygones, and whatever metaphorical wounds were once inflicted have now mostly healed.
What’s left are four buddies from South Carolina making music easy to engage with, enjoying one another’s company and, by extension, a pleasant evening with a few thousand friends. It need not be, and was not, any more complicated than that.
One hopes such an epiphany can be therapeutic — on both sides of the stage.
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