It may be contradictory to describe something as both distinctly 90s and completely timeless, yet that’s exactly what Hootie & The Blowfish brought to Merriweather Post Pavilion on Thursday.
Hootie’s Group Therapy Tour, their first full tour in more than a decade, delivered what the Group Therapy nomenclature seems to promise – good vibes, an invitation to unwind, and the gift of a carefree summer night. And while leading man Darius Rucker’s successful solo career may have suggested Hootie were a thing of the past, the band’s tour, culminating just ahead of their new album release in November, serves as a blissful reminder of that distinctly 90s and completely timeless concoction that Hootie & The Blowfish mix so well.
A sold-out crowd packed into every corner of Merriweather to see Hootie’s return to the area 25 years after their debut album release. With the tour’s tie-dye branding and shaka-donning merch setting the tone for the feel-good night, Hootie & The Blowfish wiped away their 10+ year absence from the DMV with a 20-song set, plus three encore songs, that ranged from iconic hits to classic covers to unexpected mashups to never-before-played tracks.
It seemed as though Hootie were playing purely for fun, which, unsurprisingly, resulted in a purely-fun show. After the crowd’s initial rowdiness from the band’s grand entrance wore off, Rucker and co. raised the energy level three songs in with their 2006 hit “I Go Blind,” before transitioning into a Radney Foster cover. Of course “Hold My Hand” sent Merriweather into a frenzy, with the entire venue belting those three words in unison as if they’d been waiting years to do so, which, maybe, they had been.
While Hootie’s hits are like direct portals to the nostalgia of 1990s rock, even their lesser-known tracks are tributes to the timelessness of the band’s sound. Rucker’s gruff, baritone voice is unmistakably his regardless of what he’s singing, and the leading man’s distinctive sound combined with his three bandmates’ abilities to oscillate between rock and blues and country and folk, gives Hootie & The Blowfish an enduring appeal that’s spanned from their formation at The University of South Carolina in the late 1980s to yet another sold-out show in 2019.
Rucker sprinkled in a handful of his own songs into the setlist as well, including “Alright” and his cover of Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel,” which the quartet jumped into only after Rucker toasted the band’s 25-year journey and downed a shot on stage. Hootie also performed their latest song “Rollin’” live for the first time ever, adding a pleasantly-surprising infusion of new and unknown.
Before heading offstage prior to the encore, Hootie brought back opening act Barenaked Ladies to team up on a cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends,” which provided another boost of crowd camaraderie to the night’s Group Therapy session. Rucker’s gritty belting of “oh I need somebody to love!” confirmed that his voice is in fact the band’s best instrument.
The evening’s jam session came to a close with a funk-heavy mashup of “Only Wanna Be With You” transitioned into “Get Down On It,” which ultimately slipped back into a few more choruses of the band’s 1994 breakthrough track. After such a long live hiatus, Hootie seemed to sense that no, hearing the hit only once just wasn’t going to cut it.
Even after Hootie took their bows and the venue’s lights returned, group therapy remained in session as John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” immediately came over the speakers, and fans’ departure from Merriweather became more of a moment of karaoke solidarity than a bottlenecked mass exodus. Maybe Hootie chose that song to play immediately following all of their shows, maybe it was simply random. Regardless, the feel-good vibes that started with the band’s entrance hours earlier continued, and, thankfully, you left the show feeling a little better than you did when you arrived.
Reviewed by Kayla Wilkinson, photos by Xavier Dussaq.