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Hootie plays hard 

Hootie and the Blowfish
Alltel Arena
Nov. 16

It’s hard to think about Hootie and the Blowfish without a sports-related thought or two springing up in the process. Is it because the band of former University of South Carolina students retains its share of fairweather fans and loyal followers more than a decade after they appeared on the scene?

No, the answer is far less subtle: These guys love sports, and they love to talk about it. They like to play, too, as evidenced by the band’s Hootie and the Blowfish “Monday After the Masters” Golf Tournament, a benefit for school music programs nationwide.

So, it was no surprise that sports references peppered the band’s Nov. 16 Little Rock appearance at Alltel Arena. Heck, John Daly — Arkansas’s favorite bad-boy golf pro — even made an appearance on stage.

While not exactly playing to a packed house — half of the arena was sectioned off for the Junior League of Little Rock’s Holiday House fund-raiser, of which the band was a main attraction, and their playing area was set up for 2,000 or so — Darius Rucker and the gang proved they can still attract a sizable crowd; and they kept them on their feet for a fairly flawless two-hour set of their accessible brand of ’90s rock.

After opening with “Go and Tell Him (Soup Song),” from the band’s self-titled 2003 release, and “State Your Piece,” a cut from their latest release, “Looking for Lucky,” Team Hootie quickly got into more familiar territory with “Time,” one of their many huge hits from the album that put the band on the map, 1994’s “Cracked Rear View.”

Rucker’s effortless vocal lines glided smoothly throughout the show over the easy rhythms of bassist Dean Felber, drummer Jim “Soni” Sonefeld and guitarist Mark Bryan, evoking the same Hootie acoustically driven sound that originally vaulted them to success.

Backed by a dazzling array of the band’s electric and acoustic instruments and keyboardist Peter Holsapple (who has also played with R.E.M., a band Hootie praised throughout the show) the stream of ditties about good times and good friends flowed continuously — right down the line — only interrupted (not ruined, mind you) by a calling of the Hogs and subsequent arrival on stage of a guitar-wielding Daly doing a serviceable rendition of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” a song he ended with a proclamation that the love cuts both ways by naming Hootie and the Blowfish his “favorite band.”

— Deborah Wheeler

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