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Darius Rucker, Royal Albert Hall, London live review

The country star played at the legendary venue to round off Country Music Week 2018.

Darius Rucker
Credit: Humphead Country

Darius Rucker rose to fame as the lead singer of 90s rock band Hootie and the Blowfish, with whom he had six top 40 singles in the US. He released his debut country solo album, Learn To Live, in 2008, scoring his first number one with the lead single Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It. Since then he’s released a further four studio albums, the most recent being 2017’s When Was The Last Time, and had eight number one songs. He’s also become a well-loved performer on these shores, appearing at C2C in 2013 and 2017, and last night played the final show of his current UK tour at a sold-out Royal Albert Hall.

Accompanied by his band, Rucker arrived on stage to a sports-style announcement that echoed around the venue before going into Homegrown Honey from his 2015 album Southern Style. It’s a bouncy, funky, uptempo song which got huge cheers from the crowd and set the party atmosphere from the word go. Rucker could be seen moving around on stage as well as interacting with the audience, and his baritone voice reached up to the rafters.

The next two hours were a tightly-packed catalogue of Rucker’s hits, ranging across his five solo albums as well as his career with Hootie & the Blowfish. At the request of fans he even performed Exodus, from his 2002 album Back To Then, which was a great combination of classic rock and R’n’B influences and featured an incredibly passionate vocal. It showed how versatile he is as an artist and I liked seeing a different side to his sound. He also mixed in a couple of covers, including his take on the Garth Brooks classic Friends In Low Places as well as Blackstreet’s No Diggity.

That said, there were plenty of well-known crowd-pleasers too. Songs like the upbeat Radio, the soulful, soaring Southern State Of Mind and the twangy, rocky For The First Time all kept the energy up throughout, while brighter, lively numbers such as This and Alright and the rollicking barroom anthem Straight To Hell had the whole room singing along in full voice. However, what pulled it all together was Rucker’s powerful voice, with its husky tones and occasional touch of gravel. He’s an incredibly talented singer and has a great ability to convey so many emotions in his tone, whether that’s the carefree Life’s Too Short, the romantic, sultry History In The Making or his bluesy, acoustic take on Hootie & the Blowfish’s Let Her Cry.

Personally I thought Rucker particularly shone in the slower numbers. The piano-led If I Told You and downbeat Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It showed off the rich tones of his vocal, whilst the ode to parenthood It Won’t Be Like This For Long brought a tear to my eye. I also really liked his interaction with the crowd as he cracked jokes – often at the expense of his band and manager – encouraged them to clap and sing along, and talked about how big a dream it was for him to play the Royal Albert Hall (to the extent of almost missing his son’s birthday!). He barely stopped dancing the entire time and could often be seen turning around to ensure the people sitting behind the stage got just as good a show as those near the front.

After bringing out Russell Dickerson to perform Hold My Hand, Rucker closed his set with Come Back Song – combining summery melodies with contrasting, subdued lyrics – and a rendition of Oasis’ Champagne Supernova, which he dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Manchester Arena attack. The room lit up as the crowd put their phones in the air and sang along, emphasising Rucker’s own vocals, before giving him a standing ovation.

For his encoure, Rucker performed a snippet of Adele’s Someone Like You (which he described as his favourite song) before moving into the sultry Hands On Me with its huge chorus. He closed the show with Wagon Wheel, a song originally by Old Crow Medicine Show but that’s now become his signature hit. The crowd absolutely exploded from the first blast of fiddle notes and soon everyone was on their feet and singing at full volume. Rucker finished by allowing the audience to sing the last chorus on their own, before he and his band took their bows to thunderous applause.

Overall I thought Darius Rucker delivered a slick, polished, entertaining set with a good balance between uptempo songs and slower ballads. He showed just why he’s so beloved over here with his soulful yet rock-tinged vocals, excellent showmanship and a set that was pitched perfectly to the crowd. Whilst it wasn’t completely perfect – some of it felt a little too similar to his C2C show last year, particularly the choice of covers – you can’t deny that he knows how to put on a great performance. It was a great finale for Country Music Week 2018 and based on the crowd reaction it shouldn’t be too long before he’s back on this side of the Atlantic.

Set list: 1. Homegrown Honey 2. Radio 3. Southern State Of Mind 4. For The First Time 5. If I Told You 6. This 7. True Believers 8. Exodus 9. Life’s Too Short 10. Let Her Cry 11. It Won’t Be Like This For Long 12. Friends In Low Places (Garth Brooks cover) 13. No Diggity (Blackstreet cover) 14. All I Want 15. Only Wanna Be With You 16. Don’t 17. Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It 18. History In The Making 19. Alright 20. Straight To Hell 21. Hold My Hand (with Russell Dickerson) 22. Come Back Song 23. Champagne Supernova (Oasis cover) 24. Someone Like You (Adele cover) 25. Hands On Me 26. Wagon Wheel (Old Crow Medicine Show cover) Performance date: 28th October 2018

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