Darius Rucker - O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
No matter what he does, Darius Rucker's time fronting Hootie & the Blowfish will probably define his career. He doesn't shy away from the fact (he plays their two biggest hits tonight) but that shouldn't distract from a CV that now reads 'bonafide country music star'. Four number one singles on the Billboard US Hot Country charts and three number one albums on the Billboard US Country confirm as much. He’s also the first black male artist to have a country number one since Charley Pride in 1983. Not too shabby for the former frontman of a much-derided 90s rock band.
Rucker himself has been clear that country music is where his heart is now, that it’s not a passing phase. Those three albums in the bag, a country anthem in ‘True Believers’, and even a new Christmas record show he’s talking the talk. Riding the wave of country stars coming to the UK, in particular London’s Shepherds Bush Empire, he follows acts like Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves on the familiar gig circuit that includes the capital, Manchester and Glasgow.
In contrast to those genre-subverting acts though, Rucker is pure country rock - and with an audience on the surprisingly young side - the South Carolina singer is a bouncy and cheerful presence, his voice seeming more nimble and not as rumblingly deep as in his Hootie days. Running through a set of his own material (the excellent ode to the south ‘Southern State Of Mind’; the anthemic ‘True Believers’; and new track ‘Homegrown Honey’) alongside some covers that include a rabble-rousing version of the Hank Williams classic ‘Family Tradition’ and his biggest hit, Old Crow Medicine Show’s ‘Wagon Wheel’. He even finds time for a slightly surreal take on ‘Champagne Supernova’. And those Hootie tracks have been countrified and don’t sound out of place in the MOR feel of Rucker’s show.
Rucker’s show is high on positivity and feel good factor. The crowd knows an unusually high number of words to the songs, and the supporting cast of back-up musicians are excellent. It might be a bit on the safe side but this slick, expertly delivered evening showcases just how good the genre has become at giving audiences a real fun time.