CONCERT REVIEW: Darius Rucker Brings Ballads, Beer and Brass to NYC’s Beacon Theater
There’s not much that Darius Rucker hasn’t already done. He conquered the pop charts and won two Grammys early in his career with Hootie and the Blowfish. Striking out on his own in country music, Rucker has released four No. 1 albums on the Billboard Country chart, was inducted in the Grand Ole Opry in 2012, and the list goes on. He recently released the No. 1 hit “Beers and Sunshine” and is bringing it to fans out on the road via some of the country's most unique and intimate venues.
“We’re going to go play places I’d never really played before,” Rucker shared with host Michael Strahan on Good Morning America last winter. “Hootie went straight from the clubs to the arenas and I haven’t really got a chance to play these great theaters all over the country, so I’m excited about it!”
New York City’s Beacon Theater, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is a former movie palace that has been home to the great rock’n’roll acts of the past 50 years and regularly features extended residencies by the likes of the Allman Brothers. The theater has retained its Hollywood glory, with larger-than-life Amazons on either side of the stage and murals depicting trade caravans – with no gilt paint spared. Rucker and his quick-witted opener Caylee Hammack made sure the 1920s finery was a suitable home for country music, using their charm and enthusiasm to make the sold-out, 2800-seat theater feel like a cozy honky-tonk.
Rucker used his set to illustrate the full trajectory of his career. Surrounded by his six-piece band, who were spread out on risers behind him, Rucker performed in a black t-shirt, baseball cap, jeans and snakeskin boots. Behind him, huge LED screens the height of the stage played visualizers that accompanied each song – and, in some cases, two-story tall lyrics encouraging some audience karaoke. The band’s performances were tight enough that each transition on the film supported the song’s lyrics: what you saw was what you got, which is Rucker’s approach to songwriting.
The band began with an energetic rendition of “Home Grown,” beginning the set with Rucker’s recent party anthems. (This included, of course, his recent number one hit “Beers and Sunshine.”) Rucker also played some of Hootie and the Blowfish’s most popular songs throughout the set, including “Let Her Cry” and “Hold My Hand.”
The Hootie songs stood in sharp contrast to Rucker’s party anthems, which offer a more mature take on bro country. While Rucker spent much of his early career writing songs about grief and his romantic and political struggles, his country material largely focuses on contentment and good times. Yet the overall portrait Rucker and his band painted is a textured one, perhaps pointedly so, when the band ended their main set with the song “This,” about overcoming the trials of youth.
As if showcasing his mastery of country music wasn’t enough, the biggest surprise of the night was when Rucker gave his band a break and brought out a four-piece horn ensemble. As a stagehand adorned Rucker with a white blazer and matching silk scarf, Rucker explained that he wanted to do the historic theaters on his tour justice. Perhaps in contrast to his crowd-pleaser “Southern State of Mind,” which extols the superior virtues of Southern niceties, Rucker tried his hand at a few Sinatra songs.
Unsurprisingly, he killed it.
Rucker’s sheer vocal power transformed “Summer Wind” and “Come Fly Away” into energetic explorations of love and loss, adding an earthy rasp to songs that usually feel untouchable in their historicity. Rucker’s roguish charm restored life to music that was certainly not as innocent in its time as we think it is now. While the players were talented, one wonders if Rucker even needed the horns at all.
Special credit goes to Caylee Hammack, who relished her role as an opener. She performed many songs from her own catalog, including an as-yet-unreleased song called “History Repeatting” that she co-wrote with Ashley McBryde. But Hammock turned up the temperature on the 30-degree night by composing a number of raucous medleys that got the crowd dancing, including one especially joyful moment that combined the Eagles’ “Life in the Fast Lane,” Dolly’s “9 to 5,” and Whitney’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” – complete with keytar.
Hammack proved her versatility by shredding on her harmonica, showcasing her songwriting chops with slower ballads, and even signing an autograph for a fan while in the middle of one of her trademark rockers. She came back out to duet with Rucker on “My Masterpiece,” a reminder that she more than deserves to be a main act at a venue like the Beacon someday.
Darius Rucker's 2022 Tour Dates:
March 3 – Milwaukee, Wis. @ Riverside Theater
March 4 – Minneapolis, Minn. @ The Orpheum Theatre
March 17 – St. Louis, Mo. @ The Fabulous Fox Theatre
March 18 – Indianapolis, Ind. @ Murat Theatre at Old National Centre
March 19 – Indianapolis, Ind. @ Murat Theatre at Old National Centre
March 24 – Chicago, Ill. @ Chicago Theatre
March 25 – Detroit, Mich. @ Fox Theatre
April 1 – New Orleans, La. @ Saenger Theatre