2019, Music

Hootie and the Blowfish Live at the Budweiser Stage August 29, 2019

You read that right. Last night, I went to see Hottie and the Blowfish. The band I wrote this review about. I went because my girlfriend wanted to go. I hadn’t been to the Molson Amphitheatre Budweiser Stage in so long I almost forgot what it was like. It seems they have made it a little more commercial since I last went. (As a child???) Anyway…

Barenaked Ladies

The opener was Toronto’s own Barenaked Ladies. Which got me thinking, was Stunt really so much smaller than Cracked Rear View? I guess so. (Or, alternatively, when it’s your album’s 25th anniversary and it’s one of the biggest albums of the 1990s, you get to headline.) The Barenaked Ladies are huge in Canada (in Ontario anyway) so the idea of them opening for someone else, is a little strange, even if you think about global or American sales.

We missed the first part of their set because Toronto traffic is just awful. We got stuck on the bus and eventually had to walk and we showed up 1/3 or 1/2 through, just when they were playing one of their biggest US hits. For the rest of the set they mostly focused on their more recent material with only one of their early hits – the only one I could play when I was young, “If I Had a Million Dollars” – but I assume they got into their other “only popular in Canada” stuff before we got there.

They were goofy and amusing as you would expect. Not every joke landed, but they were very intent to put on a show.

For the climax, they played a pretty bizarre medley:

Our version wasn’t quite like that. It appeared to climax with “Whole Lotta Love” with their drummer doing an excellent Robert Plant impression. But then it actually climaxed with “Another One Bites the Dust”. I don’t know a couple of those songs in the clip so it was a little confusing for me. (I have my head in the sand, apparently.) But I appreciated how all-over-the-place the medley was.

Hootie and the Blowfish

So then we had to go through the de rigueur “wait a long time between bands because reasons” thing that concerts do, which I just have so little time for now that I don’t like to stay up past my bedtime. We dawdled in our seats until the crows appeared to have diminished and then we went to find some over-priced beer. We fond cider, which should give you some idea of what the beer selection is like at the Molson Amphitheater Budweiser Stage.

To their credit, Hootie started at 9:01 so I really shouldn’t complain about the time between bands. I assume Barenaked Ladies ended their set around 8:30 but I didn’t check the time. It could have been a lot worse, especially given that it was a school night.

Through the first few songs, including their cover of “I Go Blind”, which is more famous than the original, I was really, really worried I was going to be bored to tears. It’s clear that Barenaked Ladies are the entertainers on this tour, whereas Hootie and the Blowfish just really want to play for you. I figured I was in for 90 minutes of mid tempo rock that sounded virtually like the recordings. Aside from maybe slightly different guitar solos, that’s what it felt like after those early songs.

But then they had a little fun.

First, they introduced sideman Peter Holsapple. I know of that guy. (I believe I said “Holy Shit” to Jenn.) They mentioned him because they were about to play a cover. I said “REM” because, you know, Peter Holsapple played with REM at one point. (That’s why I know who he is, because I don’t know the dbs very well.) Sure enough, we got a cover of “Losing My Religion”. They should have moved the song down a key or two, as Rucker couldn’t really stay in range. However, he did the funniest Michael Stipe impression with his body, which was one of the highlights of the set.

Soon they switched up their instruments with the drummer coming out to play guitar. And they covered a Zeppelin deep cut – the second Zeppelin cover of night – “Hey Ho What Can I Do”. They introduced the next song with a brief performance of “The Circle Will Be Unbroken”. Needless to say, I was not expecting this.

They also played a few songs from Rucker’s solo career. (I wondered to myself if this was part of the deal of getting back together.) I don’t know a single one of these songs, in addition to barely knowing any Hootie and the Blowfish songs, except from my memories of reviewing their album, so I was mystified by the reactions. It sure feels like some people were there for his stuff and not the Hootie stuff. The biggest reaction of the night (while we were still there) was for “Wagon Wheel”, a song I had never ever (consciously) heard, but it felt like everyone else in the entire venue new by heart.

Things got stranger: during a performance of what I assume was a song I don’t remember from Craked Rear View, they played an abbreviated version of “Fight the Power”. Seriously. Okay, scratch that. It was the lead single from their follow up to Cracked Rear View.

The show ended with Barenaked Ladies joining them on stage for a cover that I ruined for Jenn by showing it to her weeks ago:

At this point, Jenn was ready to leave. That was fine with me. I thought about making a Miami Heat fans joke but decided against it. She said they had played all the songs she wanted to hear.

So we tried to leave the wrong way and ended up having to walk back through the entire place. I forgot how poorly designed it is, given that you can only leave through one set of doors. Anyway, as we were leaving the encore started. They had already played for about an hour and forty, and they clearly had a few left. I really admire that. People have spent a fair amount of money to see them and they weren’t just going to play for 60 minutes with a brief encore. It was nice to see.

I was happy to leave during the encore, as I am not a fan of either of these bands, but I think we were both happy to leave before they played their biggest song, given the number of people butchering it on the way into the show a few hours earlier. (I’m not sure if they were just drunk or just purposely singing horrible for the fun of it, but it was awful.) And, of course, we um, beat the traffic.

Sorry. (Not really. Heat fans are the worst.)

I must say I enjoyed myself more than I thought I would. Hootie’s performance in particular was more eclectic than I was expecting, which felt like such a relief after the first few songs. Still, it was almost more of a sociological expedition for me, as this is entirely not the kind of show I see normally – I couldn’t tell you the last time I was at a concert with that many people, even the music festival I go to regularly has lower attendance – and not the kind of music I like or like to see live. But both bands did a good job. (Though I prefer the Barenaked Ladies brand of entertainment between them.) And everyone was very happy.

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