Having seen Darius Rucker perform at 2013’s Country 2 Country festival I was more than a little excited to hear that he had fulfilled his promise of returning to the UK for a full tour. Rucker was my personal highlight at the inaugural event having provided a passionate performance.
This show at Manchester’s HMV Ritz was opened by Nashville songwriter Patrick Davis. Performing a stripped back acoustic set Davis managed to get the crowd singing a long on more than one occasion (perhaps the fact he tried to invoke a sing-a-long on pretty much every song was a tad to much however). His confident stage presence was at times endearing and at times just plain annoying. He frequently reminded us that he has written songs for Lady A and Mr Rucker himself and told us all about his day out playing golf and writing songs with Darius Rucker. It all felt a little show-offish. One particularly strange moment was when he talked about how he and Rucker had written a song on the bus that afternoon having been inspired by a group of passing girls – then proceeded to play a cover. Needless to say, despite all of this, he is clearly a talented guy and set up the show well.
Darius Rucker kicked off his set with the catchy ‘Radio’ from his most recent album ‘True Believers’ and proceeded to fire through the first five or so songs at breakneck speed. It almost felt like he was keen to get the job done and get out of there. Thankfully after this opening things settled down a little and Rucker took some time to address the crowd. He seems like a genuinely nice guy who is really excited just to be on the road and playing to audiences – particularly in the UK.
The most striking thing for me from the outset was the fact that the band looked like they were having the times of their lives. Very rarely do you see a band interact with each other and the crowd so much with such huge smiles on their faces and it really does add up to create a brilliant atmosphere. Also, it needs to be mentioned that the lead guitarist is the spitting image of Daryl from ‘The Walking Dead’.
The set itself was a nice mixture of mid tempo songs with a smattering of Hootie and the Blowfish songs and other covers including the Hank Williams Jr. penned ‘Family Tradition’ and, as a tribute to the road crew, Jerry Reed’s ‘Eastbound and Down’. There were no real stand out moments for me in the set which is not to say it was bad, perhaps more than it just motored along nicely. Ruckers vocals seemed to struggle slightly at times which could be down to a busy tour schedule more than anything.
The set finished with the titular track ‘True Believers’ from his recent album. This was my personal highlight of the night with it’s extended intro and sing-a-long chorus. The band were welcomed back onstage to huge applause for an encore of ‘Wagon Wheel’ which is easily Rucker’s biggest hit followed by a cover of the Oasis song ‘Champagne Supernova’. I have to say it’s incredibly brave of any artist to cover Oasis in Manchester, let alone an American country act, but the quality of the performance was testament to what a great band this is with the guitarist not only matching but exceeding the original solo from Noel Gallagher. This was the perfect end to the set, even if it was a huge step away from anything country, and ended with the biggest sing-a-long of the night.
All in all I found this to be a very enjoyable show. It didn’t hit the heights reached at C2C for me personally but it was certainly a great performance. Rucker clearly tried to sculpt the set to fit with his audience, especially with the cover of Oasis, and this helped massively.