For a band best remembered by most people in the U.K. for a starring role (albeit off screen) in an early episode of Friends, there are an awful lot of people excited by their reunion tour. At the time of The One With Hootie (it was actually The One With Five Steaks and an Eggplant) the band were one of the biggest on the planet, having had global success with the country-rock epic Cracked Rear View. It spawned the radio and stadium friendly hits Hold My Hand, Only Wanna Be With You and the terrific Let Her Cry. Thereafter, they quickly disappeared from that rear view into a distant memory for U.K. fans. 25 years after that album, they are back on the road and back in the studio, with a new album due late 2019.
Two of the new songs feature in a set that becomes increasingly raucous as the night goes on. Rollin’ is a typical singalong, while the classier Miss California is much more like the solo material lead singer Darius Rucker has been impressing Nashville with over the last ten years. But it’s the old tunes the packed Apollo have come to hear and the likes of I Go Blind, Hannah Jane and I Will Wait sound great alongside those big hits from their debut. Warmly welcomed too is Keith Urban, who makes a guest appearance on guitar for Mustang Sally early on. Rucker seems genuinely in awe of having him on stage.
That’s one of a few covers during the show, some more surprising than others. There’s Old Crow Medicine Show’s Wagon Wheel and R.E.M’s Losing My Religion, with Rucker confessing the band might not have existed without Michael Stipe and his Georgia colleagues. Better still is the anthemic Champagne Supernova, with the band turning the Oasis classic into a full-on singalong, while Kool and the Gang’s Get Down On It is hilariously entertaining.
Hootie and the Blowfish return as country music rides a wave of popularity not seen before. On the other side of London tonight, Brad Paisley is selling out the O2 (Keith Urban will also appear there). Here though there are no check shirts and big hats. This is the rocker side of the country divide and perhaps the cooler. The band are certainly loving being back judging by their on-stage reactions – and after an impressive two hours, so too are their fans.