Darius Rucker, Justin Moore, Thompson Square
North Charleston Coliseum
In country music, the characters are every bit as important as the songs themselves. Saturday night at the North Charleston Coliseum, Darius Rucker and the two young opening acts brought big personalities to match their big-time radio sound. Some were more believable than others.
Thompson Square, fronted by husband-and-wife duo Shawna and Keifer Thompson, warmed the crowd up with a short set of sentimental country-rock songs. They drew material from their debut self-titled album, which was released in February and leans heavily on the Thompsons' greatest strength: their cuteness as a couple. They saved the chart-topping single "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not" for last, performing in front of giant inflatable lips and sealing the deal with a center-stage smooch. "I'll take it when I can get it," Keifer said after a bit of sweet-nothing banter. No Johnny and June, but they had winning chemistry nonetheless.
Arkansas native Justin Moore changed the pace with his slick party-boy style, storming the stage with a Solo cup of beer in hand and a catalog of songs about drivin' trucks, skinnin' deer, and kickin' ass. Moore's straight-faced stage presence was far from Kenny Chesney-style fun-loving, though, and while the rowdy folks on the floor all raised their cups during the chorus of "Beer Time," his strongest moments came during wistful ballads like "If Heaven Wasn't So Far Away" and "Small Town USA." Interestingly, the lead guitarist in Moore's backing band seemed to have a looseness and charisma more suited to the subject matter of the shindig ditties, while Moore himself shone during quieter songs about home and family.
Rucker got a warm welcome from the crowd for what was truly his homecoming — his first ever solo headline show at the Coliseum and the final stop on his latest nationwide tour. He showed his hometown a lot of love, even substituting Charleston for New York in a rendition of Lee Greenwood's "Proud To Be An American."
As Rucker mentioned in his interview for the City Paper cover story, he has spent much of his career playing with a democratic band and has had to adjust to being a true frontman (who doesn't answer to Hootie, one can assume). But perhaps as a result, Rucker and his six-piece backup band showed the greatest cohesiveness of all the night's acts. Midway through the set, they drew close in an old-timey semicircle for what could only be described as a country jam. Each member had at least one moment in the spotlight, but dobro player Alexander Ostrovsky and mandolinist Patrick Clark stole the show on multiple occasions, including a stunning instrumental introduction to the Hootie hit "Only Wanna Be With You."
Rucker, whose broad grin warmed up the chilly Coliseum throughout his time on stage, seemed to be having more fun than anyone else in the room. While he made sure to cover all the radio hits — from "Don't Think I Don't Think About It" to "Come Back Song" to "This" — his set was remarkable for the number of cover songs. Early on, he whipped out longtime touring partner Brad Paisley's country-raunch tune "Ticks," and later he won over the country old-timers with his take on David Allan Coe's "You Never Even Called Me By My Name."
His set list showed a healthy irreverence for the genre, though, with a few distinctly non-country songs getting the benefit of a little steel guitar and twang. A cover of Steve Miller Band's "The Joker" got people on their feet, and Rucker closed the night out with a surprisingly well-adapted take on Prince's "Purple Rain" — complete with a stadium-rocking solo by lead guitarist Anthony Gibson.
Above all, Darius Rucker looked comfortable in his relatively new role as a country phenomenon. He made it clear that he knew all the conventions — the displaced-Southerner song, the breakup song, the apologetic take-me-back song — but that he also wasn't afraid to do his own thing.