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Concert Reviews:
Hootie, Barenaked Ladies rekindle vintage Pine Knob spirit at DTE

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Saturday, August 17, 2019

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INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- Pine Knob lived again on Friday night, Aug. 16.

The reunited Hootie & the Blowfish and Barenaked Ladies, both bands who spent career peaks playing to sold-out crowds at the venue, were having none of the DTE Energy Music Theatre. As BNL's Ed Robertson said, "I will call this place Pine Knob until they rename it Bob Seger Place," adding that the rechristened address, 33 Bob Seger Drive, "is not enough."

And Friday's stop of the Group Therapy Tour certainly had the spirit of a vintage night at the amphitheater -- a beautiful summer evening with a packed house, a pile of hit songs and a genuine sense of special occasion in having Hootie back, on the South Carolina quartet's first tour in 10 years, and the return of longtime favorite BNL. If the stage lighting had failed the smiles in the crowd would have illuminated the venue anyway, and the singalongs rivaled any of the vocalists for the sheer number of lyrics sung during the course of the show.

BNL, of course, was a great value-plus at DTE than in most other venues the tour is playing. A familiar and much-loved presence in the metro area, the Toronto group, in its 10th year as a quartet, concentrated its headline-caliber into a tight hour on Friday, covering plenty of ground between hits ("Brian Wilson," "Pinch Me," "One Week," "If I Had $1000000") and deeper digs ("Bringing It Home," "Gonna Walk," "Matter of Time," "Lookin' Up") and plenty of customized local content.

Robertson incorporated a reference to the Woodward Dream Cruise into his usual early show rap, which included numerous mentions of Big Beaver Road, "the greatest (expletive) exit in the United States of America." BNL also paid tribute to Seger, Robertson's professed "go-to for karaoke," with a quick medley that included each band member singing a bit of one of his hits -- "Turn the Page" (Robertson), "Still the Same" (drummer Tyler Stewart), "Hollywood Nights" (bassist Jim Creeggan) and "Against the Wind" (keyboardist-guitarist Kevin Hearn) before Stewart tossed in a quick refrain from "Like a Rock."

The "Big Bang Theory Theme," meanwhile, was given more bang when Eccacia Sampson, the young daughter of BNL's keyboard tech, represented the Pledge Pink Project with a synchronized nunchaku routine. And BNL's choreographed set-closing medley started with an emotive "Shallow" from "A Star is Born" and ran through Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road," Travis Scott's "Sicko Mode," "Panic! at the Disco's High Hopes" and a Stewart-sung take on Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," with Robertson on drums, before wrapping with Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust."

Hootie & the Blowfish then followed with a dynamic performance that felt like not a minute had passed since 2009. The foursome, augmented by three additional musicians -- including longtime aid de camp Peter Holsapple and Gary Murray from frontman Darius Rucker's solo group -- still came off as a polished incarnation of a college bar/frat party band, all T-shirts and jeans despite the trappings of a flashy light and video show and even downing some backstage whiskey shots before the show to toast the late DTE security guard known as "Backstage Bill."

The hour-and-50-minute warmly rekindled the relationship between Hootie and its fans and reminded everyone that the group's repertoire runs deeper than its mega-selling 1994 album "Cracked Rear View" -- and that while Rucker has established his own star, guitarist Mark Ryan, drummer-keyboardist Jim "Soni" Sonefeld (whose Michigan family turned out in force on Friday) and bassist Dean Felber are his musical equals in the band context. Hootie offered the tour debut of "Hey Sister Pretty" as well as "Rollin'," both from the upcoming album "Imperfect Circle" (Nov. 1), but as before it was particularly fun to hear Hootie dig in for cover songs, accenting that bar band jukebox ethos.

On Friday those included Rucker's own "Alright" and a version of Old Crow Medicine Show's "Wagon Wheel" that's also among his solo hits. The group nodded to the influence of R.E.M. ("The band that made US want to be a band," Rucker said) via "Losing My Religion" and also took on Led Zeppelin's "Hey Hey What Can I Do" and "the traditional "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" (in front of a projected image of Nashville's Ryman Auditorium) that shifted into "Desert Mountain Showdown."

And BNL joined for a spirited, all-hands-on-deck romp through Joe Cocker's arrangement of the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends" -- particularly appropriate on the 50th anniversary of the second day of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair.

The Americana flavor that's always been part of the sound was accentuated even more this time out, but Hootie showed it could rock hard, too -- particularly on "Go and Tell Him (The Soup Song)" and "The Old Man and Me," which stirred in Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" and Digital Underground's "Freaks of the Industry," with Bryan rapping and also simulating turntable scratching sounds on his guitar. The show-closing "Only Wanna Be With You," meanwhile, turned into Kool & the Gang's "Get Down On it" and turned DTE (or Pine Knob for this particular night) into a funky dance party,

Whether the Hootie reunion will be a going concern remains to be seen, of course. But after Friday's show it's clear the group -- as well as BNL -- will always be welcomed back to this particular old haunt, no matter what they want to call it.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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